Archive for the ‘Sin’ Category

“Expects Islamic State to use crude chemical weapons”

30/10/2016

The United States expects Islamic State to use crude chemical weapons as it tries to repel an Iraqi-led offensive on the city of Mosul, U.S. officials say, although adding that the group’s technical ability to develop such weapons is highly limited. U.S. forces have begun to regularly collect shell fragments to test for possible chemical agents, given Islamic State’s use of mustard agent in the months before Monday’s launch of the Mosul offensive, one official said. In a previously undisclosed incident, U.S. forces confirmed the presence of a sulfur mustard agent on Islamic State munition fragments on Oct. 5, a second official said. The Islamic State had targeted local forces, not U.S. or coalition troops”.

Trump’s terrible October

30/10/2016

An article in the Hill argues that Trump’s own base are beginning to reject him, “When Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, told GOP nominee Donald Trump from the podium of the Democratic National Convention in July that “women are gonna be the reason you’re not elected to be president,” she probably didn’t forsee a sinking ship of this magnitude. Trump’s terrible October began Oct. 7, when an 11-year-old video from “Access Hollywood” came to light. In it, Trump describes his past sexual assaults of women: “I don’t even wait.” his was followed by a line of women who have come forward, describing events where, they claim, Trump actually sexually assaulted them (Trump denies these stories are true). New York magazine lists over 20 allegations of Trump’s mistreatment of women that have come out in the past month. And the list grows”.

The report goes on to note how “all of that the three public debates where the public consensus seems to be that Clinton bested Trump, three out of three. October was a terrible month for candidate Trump among women, one might think. Few were shocked when an ABC/Washington Post poll, taken between Oct. 20 and Oct. 22 by Langer Research Associates, was released, trumpeting a headline that Clinton was now in advance of Trump by 12 percentage points nationally among likely voters. That’s what the poll — a snapshot in time — says. But look at the movie, see where the action is, and a different picture emerges”.

It adds “Comparing two ABC/Washington Post polls taken a month apart, Trump’s disaster of October didn’t occur among women, the majority of whom already supported Clinton. Trump’s disaster occurred among his base: men. In the first poll taken Sept. 19-22 — before the “Access Hollywood” video came out — Trump was favoured over Clinton by 19 points among all men, a huge advantage for Trump, which reflects the historical advantage Republicans have had with men in presidential elections. But by the late October poll, the results had flipped. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton now leads Trump by 3 points in the same group — a swing of 22 points — roughly equivalent to one in five men ending their support for Trump during the past month. That’s a huge swing. One might expect that there is a similarly large swing among women; perhaps larger. But there isn’t. In September, women favored Clinton over Trump by 19 points; come October, that advantage did not measurably increase. A mere 1 point changed — It’s now 20 points — minuscule in comparison to the 22-point swing among men”.

It explains that “The impact was greatest among white men without a college degree. These men are supposed to be Trump’s base — and indeed, they still are the largest single demographic that supports Trump, according to the October poll. But comparing the September and October polls, one sees Trump’s base is abandoning him. In September, Trump enjoyed being 59-point favourite over Clinton among this demographic, but by October, this lead had shrunk to only 31 points — a change equivalent to Trump losing support of one in four white blue-collar men in October. That’s an abandonment. That’s an evaporation”.

It describes how “There can be more than one explanation for this change. First, it could be that men are abandoning the Trump ticket, and switching to Clinton in droves. A second possibility lies in that “likely voter” qualifier — it could be that men are simply abandoning Trump; and even if they are not pledging themselves to vote for Clinton in November, they’ve removed themselves from among likely voters, thus changing the outcome. There’s a third possibility: The men are lying to the pollsters. The polls were taken by phone, so one might expect the poll subjects were at home, or at work, perhaps in the presence of their spouse. In early October, an article in The Week describes that 12 percent more wives are voting for Clinton than thought by their male spouses. Likewise, 8 percent more husbands are voting for Trump than thought by their female spouses. Spouses are deceiving each other, perhaps to keep the peace at home”.

It ends “And, so, in the wake of Trump’s awful behaviour coming to light, more blue-collar men might be finding it difficult to assert that they’re voting for Trump while they’re on the phone with a pollster with their wife sitting nearby, even if their intention for the privacy of the ballot box is different. We won’t know for certain until a poll that isolates the subjects, or until Election Day. But if we accept these polls for what they say, the conclusion is clear: There has been an enormous swing from Trump to Clinton among men in the past month, a swing largely due to an evaporation among Trump’s base: white men with no degree. And while white women have also moved from Trump toward Clinton, the migration has been smaller in comparison. White blue-collar men have been, and continue to be, Trump’s base. But, his base has abandoned him in October in such numbers that, if he weren’t so loudly denigrating her, Trump might hear the fat lady sing”.

 

“Suspended all convoys in Syria on Tuesday following deadly airstrikes”

29/09/2016

The U.N. humanitarian aid agency suspended all convoys in Syria on Tuesday following deadly airstrikes on aid trucks the previous night that activists said killed at least 12 people, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers. The attack plunged Syria’s U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire further into doubt. The Syrian military, just hours earlier, had declared the week-long truce had failed. The United States said it was prepared to extend the truce deal and Russia — after blaming rebels for the violations — suggested it could still be salvaged. In Geneva, spokesman Jens Laerke of OCHA said further aid delivery would hold pending a review of the security situation in Syria in the aftermath of the airstrike. Laerke called it “a very, very dark day… for humanitarians across the world.” The U.N. aid coordinator said the Syria government had granted needed authorizations in recent days to allow for aid convoys to proceed inside Syria. Humanitarian U.N. aid deliveries had stalled in recent weeks amid continued fighting, and the truce had not paved the way for expanded convoys as initially expected. It was not clear who was behind the attack late on Monday, which sent a red fireball into the sky in the dead of night over a rural area in Aleppo province. Both Syrian and Russian aircraft operate over Syria, as well as the U.S.-led coalition that is targeting the Islamic State group.

Pell’s difficult task

29/09/2016

An article from the Wall Street Journal discusses Church finances, “Late last year, Cardinal George Pell, the pope’s finance chief, hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to undertake a comprehensive audit of the Vatican’s finances. On a mandate from Pope Francis to clarify the city-state’s muddled accounts, the newly powerful cardinal had been assessing and tweaking the system; already he had found a total of €1.4 billion “tucked away” off the books. Cardinal Pell wanted PwC to check that the 136 Vatican departments—each of which used its own, often loose accounting standards—were following guidelines aimed at imposing budgetary discipline. His task was like pushing against the ancient stone walls of a basilica. Other officials, led by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, known as the pope’s prime minister, let him know the audit wouldn’t fly. In June, the Vatican announced it had been scrapped, and soon many of Cardinal Pell’s wide-ranging powers were handed to others”.

The article adds that “It was a setback for the financial overhaul, a central part of a broader revamp of the Catholic Church’s central bureaucracy, the Roman Curia, which Francis made a centerpiece of his pontificate. It was also a sign that the Vatican’s established interests have gained the pope’s support, just three years after his election as a historic, New World outsider. Cardinal Pell, a blunt speaker, had used a vaguely worded papal mandate to reach for broad powers. He has no plans to back down. “My job is to keep pushing,” Cardinal Pell, 75 years old, said in an interview in June. “The goal is that the Vatican will be recognized inside and outside the church around the world as somebody who handles their finances properly and appropriately.” Accounting at the Vatican has never followed unified policies. Annual reports aren’t released, different departments use different accounting principles, data are inconsistent and not comparable. Before Cardinal Pell’s appointment, a panel of cardinals charged with economic oversight met just twice a year. Budgets didn’t exist, and expenditures weren’t itemized”.

The piece goes on to mention “When cardinals elected Pope Francis in March 2013, they gave him a mandate to revamp the Curia. The resignation of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI , had occurred under a cloud of allegations at the Vatican relating to cronyism, inefficiency and corruption. Complaints surfaced about €550,000 spent for a manger scene in St. Peter’s Square. Later, concern rose about the lack of oversight of hundreds of thousands of euros collected by advocates for potential saints from donors. Pope Francis moved quickly. In early 2014, he established a new Secretariat for the Economy and named Cardinal Pell to run it. In a two-page document he seemed to hand over sweeping powers, saying the cardinal had authority over “administrative and financial structures” and his reach extended “to all that in whatsoever manner” concerned economic activity, including procurement and hiring. The cardinal would report directly to the pope. In the cardinal, the pontiff found a rare example of a high-ranking prelate with media savvy, financial experience and a bold personality”.

It adds “With his 6’3” frame, the Oxford-educated cardinal cuts an imposing figure. In his youth, he played Australian rules football in the position of ruckman, a role akin to that of a center in basketball. Cardinal Pell is “a no-nonsense, realistic, straight-talking Australian,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York told CBS This Morning soon after the appointment. “He’ll get things done.” In Australia, he oversaw the merger of eight far-flung colleges into a national Catholic university. As archbishop of Sydney, he streamlined procurement procedures in the archdiocese, which had assets of about US$770 million in 2013 and a staff of 11,000. He raised the return on investments in the church’s real-estate holdings by charging market rents, helping triple the archdiocese’s budget, according to Danny Casey, the archdiocese’s business manager under Cardinal Pell and now a close aide at the Vatican. The cardinal was also a member of a panel of cardinals advising Pope Benedict on economic affairs”.

Naturally attacks come against Pell, “Critics point to what they call an autocratic streak. During his tenure in Australia, the entire staff charged with spiritual instruction at an archdiocesan seminary resigned to protest his plans to impose a regular schedule of prayers and Mass attendance on students. Australian police are investigating Cardinal Pell over accusations that he sexually abused minors several decades ago, and Australian victims’ advocates have claimed that he failed to report suspected abuse by clerics during the 1970s and 1980s. In July he said he “emphatically and unequivocally rejects any allegations of sexual abuse about him.” He has also said that the church has made “enormous mistakes” in handling sex abuse and that he regrets not having done more to pursue certain allegations about others as a young priest, but denies any wrongdoing. With the new assignment Cardinal Pell got off the mark quickly. At a July 2014 press conference, he presented himself as the financial counterpart to the Secretary of State, who had previously been unchallenged as the pope’s No. 2 official. Press accounts hailed the Australian as the Vatican’s financial “czar.” “Our ambition is to become something of a model of financial management rather than a cause for occasional scandal,” he said at the time. The “Vatican” refers to both the Holy See—which includes the central administration of the world-wide Catholic Church and related institutions serving the pope—and Vatican City State, the sovereign territory owned by the church inside Italy, where the pope resides”.

It goes on to mention that “Revenues come largely from proceeds from the Vatican Museums, its real-estate holdings, an investment portfolio and shops selling valuable tax-free products such as gasoline to Vatican employees. Dioceses around the world also send millions of dollars annually to the Vatican’s coffers. And the Vatican Bank, an independent body that is designed to provide financial services to the Catholic Church world-wide, also adds a varying amount of funds; it provided €50 million in 2014. Despite such assets, the Holy See has long run a deficit: €26 million in 2014, the Vatican said, and an estimated €35 million or more for last year, according to Cardinal Pell. Attempts in recent years to generate more revenue—the Vatican Museums raised visitor flow by 20% over the past three years—haven’t stanched red ink. Cutting costs, including layoffs, is difficult, because of the traditional Italian resistance to job cuts and the pope’s concern over the “social ill” of unemployment. Cardinal Pell and his team set out to close the deficit “so that an increasing amount of money can be used to help the strugglers and the poor,” he said in The Wall Street Journal interview. The cardinal hired consultants from firms such as McKinsey & Co. to do a review of assets. That exercise turned up €1.4 billion that was “not on the balance sheet,” recalled the cardinal. The cardinal attributed the discrepancies to haphazard accounting and ad hoc policies. “I’m not saying it was being mismanaged or anything. It just was there for a rainy day,” Cardinal Pell said. His team once received a call from the head of one Vatican office who had tens of millions in charitable funds and wasn’t sure how to account for them, he said”.

The writer goes on to note how Pell, “spotted a rich new source of revenue that could help close the deficit. The Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See, known as APSA, managed most of the Vatican’s huge real-estate portfolio, valued at €1 billion or more, including thousands of commercial spaces and apartments in Rome. Cardinal Pell said the management wasn’t satisfactory. Among the criticisms, APSA hadn’t kept up the properties or collected back rent on the real estate held by the administration of St. Peter’s Basilica, according to a person familiar with the situation. As a result, the Basilica suffered a deficit of several hundred thousand euros last year. That shortfall meant it couldn’t pay the stipends for new canons—the retired prelates who celebrate Mass there—for the next two years. A Vatican official said many properties can’t be rented out at market rates because they would be prohibitively expensive to restore. The pope gave Cardinal Pell control of the properties managed by APSA in July 2014, along with its administrative responsibilities for procurement, payment of bills and payroll”.

He points out that “APSA also controlled much of the Vatican’s financial portfolio, a power it retained. Cardinal Pell started exploring ways to reorganize the Vatican’s financial investments. One idea he pursued was to outsource them to professional money managers in a new Luxembourg-based entity. The real-estate move and plans for the investments raised hackles at APSA and other offices. APSA’s president, Cardinal Domenico Calcagno, has developed a strong relationship with Francis, who over time has become more connected to insiders at the Vatican. The two frequently eat together in the dining hall at the Vatican guesthouse, where the pope lives. Cardinal Calcagno declined to comment on Cardinal Pell’s remarks about APSA, saying only that he was “disconcerted” by the statements. The Secretary of State also controlled extensive investments, and the powers of Cardinal Parolin over hiring and spending were under threat”.

It notes worryingly that “Then the pope started paring Cardinal Pell’s powers. In a series of moves over about 18 months, Francis stripped Cardinal Pell of control over APSA’s real-estate holdings. He declined to approve his recommendations to reorganize the management of the financial portfolio. He wrote and made public a pointed letter making clear that all hiring and transfer of personnel required the approval of the office of Cardinal Parolin. The audit was scrapped, and in July, he took away most of the management functions—for payroll, payment and procurement services—and restored them to APSA. “When a new administrative body is created, it always takes a while until it fits into the broader organization,” said Vatican spokesman Greg Burke. “We shouldn’t be distracted by the noise.” Some Vatican officials said they believe Cardinal Pell’s free-market ethos has been unwelcome in the Curia, particularly under a pope who has excoriated the free-market system and warned that some financial practices can lead to corruption”.

The journalist writes that “Cardinal Pell attributed some of his setbacks to “people wanting to retain their turf, their traditional role” particularly at APSA and the Secretariat of State. “Some people don’t like change, some people don’t like a diminished authority,” he said. “And there’s always a hypothetical possibility that you’ve got some people who have something to hide.” Officials at APSA and the Secretariat of State declined to comment on the cardinal’s comments. So far, the Secretariat of the Economy has accomplished little of what it set out to do. “A lot of people in the Vatican are wondering why we needed to spend two years and a lot of money on high-powered consultants just to come back to square one, with Cardinal Pell’s office basically a beefed-up comptroller’s office,” said Robert Mickens, editor in chief of Global Pulse, a magazine that covers the Vatican. Cardinal Pell cited success in identifying the off-the-book assets, and said that the Vatican is now committed to international public sector accounting standards, even if they haven’t been implemented everywhere, saying “the gains are irreversible.” “Once you let the light in, it’s impossible to return to a situation where you’ve had large elements of the truth buried,” he said”.

 

Fixing Brazil

23/09/2016

A piece in Foreign Affairs looks at how to fix Brazil, “Brazil has rarely had it so bad. The country’s economy has col­lapsed: since 2013, its unemployment rate has nearly doubled, to more than 11 percent, and last year its GDP shrank by 3.8 per­cent, the largest contraction in a quarter century. Petrobras, Brazil’s semipublic oil giant, has lost around 85 percent of its value since 2008, thanks to declining commodity prices and its role in a massive corruption scandal. The Zika virus has infected thousands of Brazilians, exposing the frailty of the country’s health system. And despite the billions of dollars Brasília poured into the 2014 World Cup and this year’s Olympic Games, those events have done little to improve the national mood or upgrade the country’s urban infrastructure. Meanwhile, many of Brazil’s long-standing problems have proved stubbornly persistent: half of all Brazilians still lack access to basic sanitation, 35 million of them lack access to clean water, and in 2014, the country suffered nearly 60,000 homicides. But Brazil’s biggest problems today are political. Things first came to a boil in the summer of 2013, when the police clashed with students protesting bus and subway fare hikes in São Paulo. Within days, some 1.5 million people took to the streets of Brazil’s big cities to protest a wider set of problems, including the government’s wasteful spending (to the tune of some $3.6 billion) on the construction and refurbishment of a dozen stadiums for the World Cup. In the months that followed, when Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appeared on television to soothe the unrest, Brazilians across the country drowned out her voice by rattling pots and pans from their balconies. In October 2014, after promising to increase public spending and bring down unemployment, Rousseff managed to win reelection by a thin margin. But she quickly backtracked on her major pledges, announcing a plan to cut state spend­ing and rein in inflation. The public’s anger mounted”.

He writes that the coalition led by Rousseff’s party collapsed with impeachment proceedings against her that were later successful. He adds that Brazil’s constitution allows the president powers to break gridlock between executive and legislature through decree as well as “dislodge pending legislation from congres­sional committees, force Congress to vote on urgent measures, and veto bills in part or in whole. Those powers have long helped Brazil’s presidents avoid deadlock and pass many needed reforms. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Brazilian presidents are all-powerful. To the contrary: their ability to avoid gridlock comes at a high price. Because Brazil’s Congress has more than two dozen political parties, it’s nearly impossible for a single one to win a majority. That forces Brazil’s presidents to form coalitions in order to govern effectively. And that’s where the problems start. Brazil’s political parties lack coherent ideological agendas; instead, they are loosely knit alliances whose members have no qualms about forming or dissolving coalitions at any time”.

The author goes on to mention how “Brazil’s electoral rules allow candidates to switch parties relatively easily, undermining any chance of ideological unity within coalitions. And candidates are elected to Congress based not on the number of votes they receive individually but on the total number their party pulls in. That creates an incentive for politicians to change allegiances on a regular basis: jumping ship for a party led by a popular candidate can often boost less popular aspirants to office (or keep them there). Brazilian politicians thus tend to ride on the coattails of powerful allies instead of focusing on party loyalty, ideological consistency, or the details of policy”.

He also cites numerous inefficiencies, which pale “in comparison to the other big problem engendered by Brazil’s flawed political rules: endemic corruption. In many cases, the pork and patronage doled out by presidents prove insufficient to win Congress’ support; presidents therefore often sweeten the pot by allowing legislators to appoint their allies to plum jobs in Brazil’s powerful state-owned companies and regulatory agencies. Once in these posts, the new officials gain a say over which companies will receive lucrative government contracts. And many of them have proved all too happy to make those decisions based on bribes, which they then share with their patrons in Congress”.

He goes on to mention that “Unlikely as it may seem, Brazil’s current troubles might just have a silver lining: business as usual has become so costly that many Brazilians have finally accepted that the system has to change. Operation Car Wash has laid bare the misdeeds of the country’s political class, and for the first time, dozens of politicians and business leaders have gone to jail. In the past, officials were able to shrug off corruption investigations by relying on a lenient justice system, a weak congressional ethics committee, and a public that seemed inured to graft. That is no longer possible. The judges, investigators, and prosecutors running Operation Car Wash represent a new generation of civil servants, with new values, and they are using a new set of rules and tactics, including the threat of serious sentences and the carrot of leniency deals, to break the silence that politicians and businesspeople have maintained for decades. Just as important, according to public opinion research by the polling group Datafolha, most Brazilians now believe that corruption is their country’s biggest problem. And whereas the protests in 2013 were mostly about irrational government spending, more recently, Brazilians have taken to the streets specifically to protest official corruption. For all his shortcomings, Temer seems to understand the need for change. He is pushing for Brazil’s first-ever cap on public spending, a measure that would limit government expenditures to current levels for the next 20 years, thereby forcing interest groups to compete for a fixed amount of resources instead of pushing for tax hikes or bigger deficits. He has introduced measures that will allow the government to reward efficient bureaucrats across the vast expanse of the Brazilian state. And crucially, he has raised the possibility of constitutional reforms that would reduce the number of political parties and restrict their ability to merge their electoral lists. Both measures would make it easier to get things done in Congress without graft”.

He goes on to suggest that “In short, lawmakers must rewrite the rules of the game so that elected officials stop working only for their backers and start focusing on good governance for the majority of the population. Academics, policymakers, and pundits have offered a number of ideas for how they might do so. One radical proposal would have Brazil drop its presidential system in favor of a parliamentary one akin to the United Kingdom’s. By fusing Congress and the executive, that change would make legislators directly responsible for the success or failure of the government, and since lawmakers would be threatened with fresh elections if they challenged the government’s major decisions, such a reform might reduce corrupt dealmaking and encourage the development of stronger political parties. Other experts have argued for a semi-presidential system, in which a prime minister accountable to the legislature conducts day-to-day politics and a president retains the power to dissolve parliament and call new elections. Shifting to such a system could make lawmakers more accountable for the results of policy decisions while preserving the president’s status as a national figurehead. Yet another proposal would keep Brazil’s current presidential system intact but reduce the number of existing parties to between six and eight and push them to commit to coherent policy platforms, in part by abandoning the open-list proportional representation that defines today’s electoral system”.

He concludes “It is too early to say which of these proposals would be most effective. What is certain, however, is that Brazil’s political system will remain dysfunctional until the country’s president and legislators can work together effectively—in the name of party platforms, not clientelistic bargains. To get there, Brazil must reduce the number of parties in Congress and empower them to discipline their own members. Operation Car Wash, Rousseff’s impeachment, and the overall economic decline have created an opportunity for Brazil to pursue just this kind of reform. Now the country’s politicians must seize the rare opening these cascading crises have afforded them”.

Brazil after the Olympics

01/09/2016

A piece notes the problems of Brazil after the end of the Olympics, “The Olympic torch was extinguished Sunday night in a carnival of song and dance, the good times rolled. But it is too early to determine whether or not the games were a success or just a muddling through difficult days. Swimming pools turned green. Some 85,000 soldiers and police were mobilised to provide security, but instances of muggings,stray bullets, and petty theft made headlines. The pollution in Guanabara Bay sickened at least one athlete. And, of course, six-time Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte and three of his fellow swimmers embarrassedthemselves. But the enthusiasm of many Cariocas — as Rio de Janeiro’s residents are called — partially compensated for the long lines to enter venues, food shortages, and challenging transportation delays. However the games will be remembered, it has at least been a temporary respite for Brazilians from the ongoing political and economic crises that have gripped the nation”.

More importantly it mentions “As the games end, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff will move to closure with Aug. 25 cited as the day the last phase of the process will open. Rousseff faces charges of violating budget laws by authorizing credit lines without congressional approval. That is the formal indictment. But there are many other elements involved in the accounting of her very public national downfall. Rousseff, by most accounts, was a terrible politician. Brazil is a multiparty political system, and the only way to get legislation approved is to constantly build short-term coalitions in Congress; instead, she refused and played to her base. Even worse, she was often petty: In particular, she sought to prevent the re-election of Eduardo Cunha as the speaker of the lower house. In retaliation, it is said, he initiated the impeachment process. Many blame her government for the economic and financial crises that now plague the country. By most accounts, she appointed mediocre functionaries to important cabinet posts. And her Workers’ Party (PT) never encountered a welfare program it didn’t like. As a result of massive public sector spending, the economy overheated. Inflation increased, as did unemployment. Foreign direct investment fell”.

It adds importantly, “the hallmark of the current crisis was the discovery that the state oil company, Petrobras, had become a major source of bribes and kickbacks that were used to finance party politics. Most of the country’s major construction companies were involved, and a host of political leaders across the party spectrum have been implicated in the scandal. It did not help Rousseff’s credibility that she served as the minister of mines and energy and chair of Petrobras while many of the crimes were committed. Of course, she denies any knowledge of what occurred. But the scandal is so large as to deem that defense laughable. A new generation of federal prosecutors have arrested or indicted many of the alleged participants of the conspiracy. Dozens of senior politicians and private sector officials sit in jail. Some are involved in plea bargains; most will serve some time in prison. For economic and political elites who believed they could act with impunity, the new reality that crimes will be punished is a shock — but one that will serve Brazil well in the future. The cozy, often crooked ties between the private sector and the huge, inefficient public sector have been dealt a serious blow”.

It goes on to point out that “though the sins of an economic giant are being laid bare, the country’s finances are still in great distress. A decade ago, Brazil was seen as a rapidly emerging economy — one of the skyrocketing BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that would own the future. Those were heady days, especially for Brazil. A sharp increase in demand for Brazilian raw materials and commodities, particularly from China, provided an ever-increasing amount of foreign exchange. Investment flowed in. Brazil was upgraded by all the rating agencies. But the PT didn’t understand that the economy was actually neither productive nor competitive globally. Priorities such as physical infrastructure were overlooked. Rigid labour laws, many on the books since the 1930s, made it difficult to fire unproductive workers and hire new ones. Skills were subpar; both technical training and general education languished. Public health, while universal, was substandard. Social security coverage extended benefits to both public sector employees and the private sector, but deficits ballooned and reform was postponed. Brazil’s tax collection was in disarray — leveed at the union, federal district, state, and municipal level, the burden surpassed 33 percent of the country’s GDP. Meanwhile, government grew bigger and bigger as the PT sought to employ as many of its party members as possible, often with little thought to their competence”.

The author mentions that “The acting president, Michel Temer, if confirmed at the end of August as the new chief executive, apparently wants to undertake a reform program. The first priority is to rein in government spending, cutting pensions and workers’ benefits. As might be imagined, the unions are outraged; there will be massive protests if the government decides to move forward”.

He points out its rising debt, partly due to an aging population, “Compounding the problem of a stable social safety net is Brazil’s profound inequality. There is a tremendous gap between the very rich, a struggling middle class, and the poor. The Olympics captured that disparity: As sweeping aerial shots panned from the beachfront condos of Ipanema to the mountainside favelas, or slums, the media didn’t shy from reports on the inability of the favelados to afford tickets for the events. Many of the favelas lack sanitation — a major cause of the pollution in Guanabara Bay, since raw sewage runs directly into the water. Promises to install processing plants have been on hold for decades. Security was frequently highlighted in the media coverage. While tourists and middle- and upper-class Brazilians cheered in the Maracanã Stadium, the favelas were home to the ongoing drug war between the gangs and the security forces”.

It concludes “As the games end and the impeachment process terminates, probably with the dismissal of Rousseff, the grim questions that mark Brazil’s present predicament will resurface. Can public education and health facilities be reformed to give security and opportunity to those in need? Can a corrupt, inefficient, and immense federal government be downsized? After decades of out-of-control growth, are there too many political interests at play to allow for meaningful reform? Can Brazil reinvigorate industry to provide new export products in a world where commodity prices will probably be flat for some time? The short answer is that changes are possible — but not without government reforms first. Most observers agree that much of the gridlock in Brasília is due to the dysfunctional political party system. Remarkably, ideology isn’t the problem: Politicians move from party to party with little regard for loyalty. But changing the system — creating electoral districts and reducing the number of political parties — will require congressional approval. Few analysts believe that there is a broad enough coalition in Brasília that will forgo perks and patronage to make selfless decisions for the good of the state”.

It ends “Local elections are scheduled for October of this year; the results may provide some insight into the impact of the current situation on the average voter. The expectation is that Rousseff’s PT will do poorly at the expense ofpersonalist parties. National elections will take place at the end of 2018. Temer has already said he will not be a candidate. The PT’s former two-term president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, looks increasingly like a liability — and he may well be indicted as part of the ongoing scandal. Will new reform-minded candidates emerge? That is the hope — but there is no guarantee that fresh faces will be able to successfully address the reform agenda. Some argue that economic growth will begin to return in late 2017 or in 2018. If Temer becomes president after the impeachment, he has promised to work with Congress to approve much needed fiscal reforms. Brazil would also be helped if global commodity and raw material prices recover. Surely, Brazil’s working and lower classes will cheer, but the welcome relief may only delay the inevitable reckoning with the painful realities that need to be addressed”.

 

“Britain has proved especially willing to look the other way”

28/05/2016

A relevant article notes the links between London and corruption, “British Prime Minister David Cameron was caught on video describing Nigeria and Afghanistan as “fantastically corrupt” and “possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.” Many Nigerians were outraged by his comments, which came on the eve of an anti-corruption summit in Britain to be attended by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. Some demanded an apology from Cameron. But Buhari was phlegmatic. “I am not going to demand any apology from anyone. What I am demanding is the return of assets,” he said, referring obliquely to the tens of billions of dollars in stolen Nigerian money thought to be squirrelled away in London bank accounts. “What will I do with [an] apology? I need something tangible.” It’s no secret that corruption is a problem in Africa. Some $50 billion in illicit finance flows out of the continent every year, according to the United Nations. In the first 40 years of independence alone, Nigeria’s leaders stole or squandered an estimated $400 billion. But as the barbed comments from Buhari imply, these leaders had accomplices in the West. Britain and other developed countries are not the cause of Africa’s corruption, but they are certainly an impediment to its eradication. Cameron didn’t loot Nigeria’s coffers himself, but his government has provided thieves financial getaway vehicles to ferry stolen riches out of Africa”.

The report goes on to note “Buhari knows better than most how this white-collar mugging goes down. Back when he ruled Nigeria as a military dictator in the 1980s, he went after former ministers and civil servants from the previous administration in a wide-ranging anti-corruption probe. Some of them fled to Britain — in itself an indication of the benevolent treatment they expected to receive there. The response of Buhari’s government was to send agents to kidnap former transport minister Umaru Dikko from his home in London. They got as far as snatching him off the street, drugging him, and stuffing him into a shipping crate. But the plot was foiled at the last minute by British security forces as the agents prepared to load Dikko onto a flight back to Nigeria. The episode resulted in a major diplomatic crisis during which Britain refused multiple extradition requests from Nigeria, leaving the former minister to grow old with his allegedly ill-gotten gains. It’s understandable, if not excusable, that Nigeria resorted to kidnapping former ministers on European soil. At best, legal avenues for repatriating stolen wealth from abroad are infuriatingly slow. At worst, they are dead ends that come with hefty legal fees”.

It adds “This is sadly typical of African efforts to recover stolen wealth. Some have argued that African governments bear some responsibility for not aggressively prosecuting offenders at home. One oft-cited example is the so-called chickengate scandal in Kenya, where British companies paid bribes – codenamed “chicken” — to Kenyan officials to obtain contracts to print election materials. British authorities prosecuted their country’s offenders, but Kenyan authorities did not. What can Western countries do if their African counterparts lack the political will to root out corruption? This argument obscures the fact that African governments are fighting a battle on two fronts. Even when they successfully prosecute corruption at home, they often have to restart litigation in foreign countries to have any hope of accessing the stolen funds. In other words, they must litigate every crime twice: domestically to secure a conviction, and abroad to recover the money. This all but ensures that the stolen funds won’t be repatriated in full, since foreign lawyers typically collect a percentage of the money they recover. For African governments, illicit financial flows are lose-lose. But for Western firms, they’re win-win: There are profits to be made whether or not the money is eventually recovered and returned”.

Not supursingly the piece mentions “Leena Koni Hoffmann, an associate fellow at Chatham House’s Africa Program, described these flows as “integral to the economies of” recipient countries. London’s booming housing market, for example, has been artificially inflated by money laundered from abroad, according to Britain’s National Crime Agency. Not surprisingly, Western enforcement of international anti-corruption treaties has been lax. As Cameron admitted at the summit last week, “When it comes to tackling corruption, the international community has looked the other way for far too long.” Of the 41 industrialized countries that are signatories to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Anti-Bribery Convention, only four actively enforce it, according to the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.  Britain has proved especially willing to look the other way when foreign officials arrive with suspiciously large sums of money. Although British banks are supposed to conduct anti-money laundering checks when receiving funds from foreign politicians, a 2011 report from the country’s Financial Services Authority revealed that many had repeatedly failed to do so. For example, former Nigerian Gov. James Ibori managed to deposit more than $2 million over several years at a single British bank branch, largely in over-the-counter cash deposits, before anyone raised an eyebrow. He was eventually convicted of money laundering in a British court in 2012, but the fact that no one caught on sooner speaks to the absurd laxity of the system”.

The piece ends “After last week’s summit, Cameron announced the formation of a Global Forum for Asset Recovery that will convene next year to discuss returning corruptly acquired funds to four countries, including Nigeria. He also announced that he would introduce new regulations that will make it more difficult for foreign shell companies to launder money in Britain by forcing them to declare their holdings in a public register. All this talk of cracking down on illicit finance is commendable, but unless Western governments get serious about enforcing anti-corruption regulations — remember, there are conventions in place that many signatories simply disregard — it won’t lead to anything. One way to improve enforcement would be to internationalise it, removing the fox-and-henhouse-like incentive structure that prevails when nations are expected to prevent illicit funds from flowing into their own pockets. This could be done either by empowering existing international enforcement bodies, such as the International Court of Justice, to prosecute transnational corruption or by establishing a stand-alone international anti-corruption court. Sadly, I don’t see Western countries leading the charge to do either”.

Bangladeshi gay rights activist murdered

18/05/2016

Bangladesh police say a top gay rights activist and editor at the country’s only LGBT magazine is one of two people who have been hacked to death. The US ambassador to Bangladesh condemned the killing of Xulhaz Mannan, who also worked at the US embassy. Another person was also injured when the attackers entered a Dhaka flat. Since February last year suspected militants have killed several secular or atheist writers and members of religious minority groups. The two men were murdered two days after a university teacher was hacked to death by suspected Islamist militants. So-called Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility – but the Bangladeshi government insists there is no IS presence in the country.

“Both sides in the debate can take consolation”

09/04/2016

Yesterday Pope Francis released Amoris Laetitia, his long awaited Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.

John Allen writes that “One of the standard talks I’ve given on the Catholic lecture circuit for years now focuses on the cultural gap between the Vatican and Main Street USA. Only semi-jokingly, I sometimes title it “Rome is from Mars, America from Venus,” because it does often seem they’re on two different planets. One area where the cultural gap is especially apparent is contrasting attitudes towards law. For Americans, and perhaps Anglo-Saxons generally, law is a lowest common denominator of civic morality. It’s what we expect everyone to do all the time, and if a law is being widely disobeyed, for us that’s a crisis – we either want to repeal the law or launch a crackdown, but we can’t have people making exceptions on the fly”.

Allen goes on to notes “For Mediterranean cultures, which still shape the thought-world of the Vatican to a significant degree, law is instead more akin to an ideal. It describes a moral aspiration, but realistically it’s understood that many people much of the time will fall short. (If you don’t believe it, come to Italy sometime and watch how the locals approach traffic laws!) A frustration I’ve long experienced as an American journalist covering the Vatican is that when the pope or some Vatican department issues a new law, it often comes off as terribly draconian and harsh in media coverage and public discussion. It’s difficult to explain that always encoded into the legislation is the common-sense expectation that bishops and pastors will use good judgment in applying it in ways that reflect their local circumstances”.

Allen makes the point that Rome “never says that second part explicitly – perhaps out of fear that it will come off as encouraging hypocrisy, rather than presuming a good-faith effort to live up to the value the law expresses. They don’t usually say it, that is, until now. One striking point about Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ sweeping new apostolic exhortation on the family, which was released in a Vatican news conference on Friday, is that it lifts up this long-standing Catholic capacity for flexibility and nuance in pastoral practice, and sets it squarely alongside the law in full public view”.

The report goes on “Although the 264-page text treats a staggering variety of topics, public interest initially will focus on what Francis says in chapter eight about Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried, since that was the lighting rod issue in two contentious Synods of Bishops in 2014 and again in 2015. In a nutshell, the pope neither creates any new law on the issue nor abrogates any existing one. What he does do, however, is place great stress on the pastoral practice of applying the law, insisting that pastors must engage in a careful process of “discernment” with regard to individual cases, which are not all alike, and help people reach decisions in conscience about the fashion in which the law applies to their circumstances. The “money quote” on this score comes in one of Francis’ footnotes (number 336, to be exact), in which the pontiff says, “This is also the case with regard to sacramental discipline.” In effect, what he’s saying is that there may be cases in which a given divorced and remarried Catholic, after talking things out with a priest, could be justified in reaching the decision that they don’t carry the guilt that should exclude them from the sacraments, including Holy Communion. In truth, that may not change very much in terms of in-the-trenches experience in the Church”.

Interestingly Allen makes the point that “For one thing, that sort of pastoral adaptation, sometimes referred to as an “internal forum” solution, is already happening. In many parishes, you can find divorced and remarried Catholics who come forward for communion, and many pastors have either quietly encouraged them to do so or, at least, never discouraged them, choosing to respect whatever decision they’ve made in conscience. For another, the language in Amoris Laetitia on the Communion question is sufficiently elastic that both sides in the debate can take consolation, meaning that those pastors and bishops inclined to a stricter reading of Church law probably won’t feel compelled to revise their thinking, and neither will those given to a more flexible stance”.

Crucially he adds “Amoris Laetitia represents a breakthrough of no small consequence, because for once in a Vatican text, what got enunciated wasn’t simply the law but also the space for pastoral practice – which is where the Church’s long-underappreciated capacity for subtlety and compassion usually enters the picture. In other words, what Pope Francis has done is let the rest of the world in on one of the best-kept secrets about the Catholic Church: Yes, the Church has laws, and it takes them very seriously. But even more than law it has flesh-and-blood people, and it takes their circumstances and struggles seriously too. At one stage, Francis writes that the divorced and remarried can find themselves in situations “which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications, leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.” In reality, that’s been the spirit of things in the Church forever, to greater and lesser degrees depending on time and place. Still, it somehow feels new, and important, to hear a pope saying it out loud”.

 

An empire of tax dodgers, drug dealers, and embargo breachers

07/04/2016

A piece in Foreign Policy notes the UK’s “empire of tax evasion” after the release of the Panama Papers, “There is a temptation, when looking at the astonishing “Panama Papers,” to start by searching for politicians from your own country who are implicated. If you are British and approach the documents in this way, you’ll find slim pickings in the information released so far. Among the many thousands of names listed in the leak as possibly implicated in dodgy tax deals, there can’t be any appearance less surprising than that of Baroness Pamela Sharples, the widow of the former governor of Bermuda. That is, until you get to Lord Ashcroft — billionaire, Belizean national, and former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party — who would have been more remarkable if he had been absent. Then there’s Michael Mates, a former Tory MP, who stood down in 2010 amid another business scandal. And David Cameron’s late father, but again — hardly a surprise. To engage in this exercise, however, is to largely miss the point: not just the point of this astonishing leak, but the point of the whole United Kingdom. Because it’s hard not to look at the whole affair and see Britain right at the core of it. Or, at least, the British state, which one might argue is a very different entity”.

Crucially he writes that “There are, you see, a few important facts we are rarely told about the British state. Like, for instance, the fact that it governs more land in the Southern Hemisphere than the Northern; more penguins than any other; that there are 18 legislatures under Westminster’s auspices; and that these include the governments that oversee by far the most important network of tax havens in the world. With the City of London at its center, Britain’s network of refuges from taxes, regulations, and other pesky laws stretches first to the crown dependencies — the Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey — and then into the 14 British overseas territories: places like the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands. From there, this web extends to places like Hong Kong, not under British rule since 1997 but, according to author Nicholas Shaxson, still feeding “billions in business to the City.””

The piece goes on to mention “The overseas territories — the last vestiges of the old empire — each have slightly different political structures, but all of them have a governor figure, appointed by the British government. All of them hand control of their foreign policy over to Westminster, and all of them depend on the motherland for military protection: The Falklands War is an obvious example, but let’s not forget that when Tony Blair famously claimed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction capable of reaching British military targets within 45 minutes, he was referring not to London, but to Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Britain’s military bases and overseas territory on Cyprus. Akrotiri and Dhekelia still serve a strategic purpose, which make them the exception; most of the overseas territories have evolved into, essentially, parking lots for the wealth of the .01 percent. It’s worth pointing out that more than half of the companies listed in the leaked Mossack Fonseca documents are registered in the U.K. or its overseas territories — and they’re not based in Birmingham”.

He does argue that these territories are now part of a “financial empire”, he then correctly writes that “Want to understand how things on the edges got so bad? Look to the center: The City of London itself is even older than the empire. The 1.12 square miles that make up London’s financial center have had their own constitutional arrangements for a millennium. (As Shaxson notes, it’s said that William the Conqueror allowed the City to keep its “ancient rights” in 1067, as he trashed the rest of the country.) Today, those square miles are governed by the City of London Corporation, whose representatives are elected by the businesses that operate there, and they have an unelected representative who sits in Parliament, as well as their own police force, which has been remarkably unsuccessful in policing British banks. Because having its own built-in constitutional protections wasn’t sufficient, in 2010, the City paid for more than half of the Conservative Party’s election campaign, ensuring Cameron’s narrow victory (along with the aforementioned Lord Ashcroft) and that any significant new regulations on finance after the 2008 crisis would be politically impossible. To be sure, however, the Labour Party didn’t do anything to regulate the city in the previous 13 years when it was in power — winning it over with a famous “prawn cocktail offensive” that was a key part of its strategy to get into No. 10 Downing St. in the first place. All of this goes a little way to explaining why Britain has, for some time now, been considered the global capital for criminal money laundering among those in the know. Perhaps, with the release of the Panama Papers, the last sheen of respectability will finally be stripped away”.

He rightly notes the obsession with money and money laundering has led to pushing up the price of the pound making exports more unaffordable and driving up the cost of housing in the South East.

He ends “It was not so long ago — within my grandparents’ lifetime — that Britain was at the center of the biggest empire in human history. Many observers have considered the present day, understandably, as the post-imperial era, placing the end date of empire somewhere around the time Britain withdrew from South Asia. But perhaps we got ahead of ourselves — perhaps we’re only just now seeing the final stages, the physical empire replaced with a hidden financial one. And perhaps the Panama Papers will be seen as the moment when this empire, too, finally began to come unstuck”.

Benedict, the need for God, and mercy

30/03/2016

John Allen notes the recent interview given by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “From the beginning, part of the narrative about Pope Francis has been that he’s sort of the anti-Pope Benedict XVI. Where Benedict was cold and aloof, Francis is seen as warm and populist; where Benedict was rigid and dogmatic, Francis is open and flexible; where Benedict was a man of the system, Francis is the antidote to it. One could go on crafting different ways of making the same point, but the idea is clear: Benedict and Francis are often set in opposition”.

Allen goes on to make the point “Francis himself has never fueled that narrative. Right after his election he took a helicopter out to Castel Gandolfo, the summer residence where his predecessor was staying, in order to embrace Benedict. The first encyclical issued by Francis, “Lumen Fidei” in June 2013, was largely based on a draft by Benedict, and Francis has invited Benedict to take part in several big events. We got another reminder that the real story is continuity, not rupture, with publication of a rare interview with Benedict after retirement on Wednesday, showcasing why he’s considered one of the best theological minds ever to occupy the Throne of Peter. The interview took place in October 2015, as part of a conference in Rome on the traditional Christian doctrine of justification by faith, and was conducted by the Rev. Jacques Servais, a Jesuit priest and theologian”.

Allen mentions that “To the extent there was a headline, it was Benedict’s assertion that there’s a “deep double crisis” facing the faith, as a result of the modern theological belief that people can be saved outside Christianity. While endorsing that belief, Benedict says it’s created a loss of motivation for missionary work and also sown doubt as to why one should put up with the demands of Christianity if you can get to Heaven without them. All that is certainly true, though it’s not the first time Benedict has made the point. Vis-á-vis Francis and Benedict, the most interesting portion of the interview comes in Benedict’s reflections on mercy”.

Allen summarises the interview noting that “In a nutshell, Benedict’s argument is that 500 years ago, when the Protestant Reformation happened, people took the existence of God for granted and assumed that God must be pretty ticked off at what a mess human beings have made of the world. Therefore, the driving question was how any human being could be saved. Martin Luther answered that question by saying it’s faith alone, while the Catholic Church insisted it’s faith plus good works, laying the basis for a great schism. Today, Benedict says, the terms of debate have been reversed. Modern women and men look around at all the violence, evil and corruption in the world, and ask what sense it makes to believe in a loving God. In other words, it’s no longer humanity that has to justify itself before God; it’s God who has to justify himself to humanity. Benedict believes God’s answer to that challenge is mercy”.

Allen continues, “According to Benedict, God cannot just make all the evil in the world disappear, because to do so would be to rob humanity of freedom. What God can do is to show mercy, thereby encouraging people to be merciful with one another. Mercy is at the heart of the Christian story, with God’s only son being willing to die amid “the suffering of love.” “Only where there is mercy does cruelty end, only with mercy do evil and violence end,” Benedict says. This brings us by a short route to Francis, since he’s all about mercy. It’s quite literally his motto as pope, which is a three-word Latin phrase, miserando atque eligendo, roughly meaning “choosing through the eyes of mercy.” His first Sunday homily as pope featured the claim that “the strongest message of the Lord is mercy,” and right now we’re in the middle of a special jubilee Holy Year called by Francis and devoted to the theme of mercy. The most famous sound bite associated with Francis, “Who am I to judge?”, is an expression of mercy, as is his attitude toward so many issues and constituencies – the poor, war, divorced and remarried Catholics, and so on. “Pope Francis is totally in agreement with this line,” Benedict says. “His pastoral practice is expressed in the fact that he continually speaks to us of God’s mercy. It is mercy that moves us toward God, while justice frightens us before Him.” As Benedict sees it, he inherited the emphasis on mercy in recent papacies from St. John Paul II, laid out the intellectual case, and then handed it on to Francis, who’s taking the message to the streets”.

He concludes “At the level of Church politics that thumbs-up is fairly important, since some of Francis’ biggest critics come among the very theological conservatives who cherish Benedict. The bottom line, therefore, is that the narrative has the story wrong. The relationship between Benedict and Francis isn’t Ali vs. Frazier, or Coke vs. Pepsi; it’s more akin to Lennon and McCartney, or Rolls and Royce. Granted, Benedict and Francis have very different personalities, but then so did Martin and Lewis or Holmes and Watson, which didn’t stop them from making some magic together. This isn’t a rivalry, in other words, but actually one of the more intriguing partnerships in recent Christian history”.

 

Cruz misreads Reagan

18/12/2015

A report examines the “strategy” of Ted Cruz (R-TX), “Tuesday evening’s GOP debate witnessed a sharp exchange between candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz on U.S. policy toward dictatorships in the Middle East and North Africa. Where Rubio restated his support for regime change in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, Cruz suggested leaving anti-Islamist dictators well alone. “We need to learn from history,” said Cruz, “If we topple Assad, the result will be ISIS will take over Syria, and it will worsen U.S. national security interests. And … instead of being a Woodrow Wilson democracy promoter … we ought to hunt down our enemies and kill ISIS rather than creating opportunities for ISIS to take control of new countries.” The discussion did nothing to resolve what has become a significant fault line over foreign policy within the Republican Party”.

The article continues “Indeed, this wasn’t the first time Cruz has outlined his vision of an “America First” strategy. His debate remarks echoed the foreign policy speech he delivered at the Heritage Foundation on Dec. 10 — a speech that offers the most complete portrait to date of Cruz’s strategic worldview and, as such, deserves more scrutiny than it has received. True to his style in domestic politics, Cruz’s foreign policy rhetoric seems at first glance to belong to a mainstream tradition, only to reveal political intentions that, in the context of American history, are more marginal and troubling”.

Yet it should be noted that many of the same criticisms were levelled at President Bush who was firmly within the mainstream of the US foreign policy tradition. After the election, in the unlikely event if there is a President Cruz, the actions of a Cruz administration will be within the confines foreign policy tradition of the US.

The writer adds “To Cruz’s audience, Kirkpatrick’s credentials as a Reaganite conservative are impeccable. Kirkpatrick’s most famous work is her 1979 Commentary article, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” which Cruz cited in his Heritage Foundation speech. It offers a bleak analysis of world affairs and of human nature. It takes issue with the Enlightenment notion that history is heading in the direction of “reason, science, education, and progress,” and chides those naïve Americans, such as Jimmy Carter, who subscribe to the fanciful “doctrine of modernization” that “predicts progress (in the form of modernization for all societies) and a happy ending (in the form of a world community of developed, autonomous nations).” History has no direction, cautions Kirkpatrick, and the United States needs to focus less on perfecting imperfect but reliable allies (as it had disastrously attempted to do with Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran and Anastasio Somoza García of Nicaragua) and more on the global threat posed by communism”.

The author contends that “There are three reasons why Cruz might have identified Kirkpatrick as a lodestar. First, Kirkpatrick, the first woman to ever to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was a significant influence on the foreign policies of President Reagan — particularly in his support for brutal anti-communist military dictatorships in Latin America — and this connection, in the eyes of today’s Republican Party, automatically confers privileged status. For anyone with serious ambitions in either major party, indeed, invoking Reagan’s wisdom is like pinning an American flag badge to your lapel — you do it without a second thought. Second, Kirkpatrick was inspired to write the article by the supposed failings of President Jimmy Carter, whom she lambasted in the article as weak-willed and sanctimonious, which makes for a nice analogical fit — scratch Carter and replace with Obama. The third reason more directly concerns the substance of Kirkpatrick’s views. Cruz seems to believe Kirkpatrick’s clear-eyed realism offers guidance for the troubles facing the United States today. Rather than take morally charged leaps into the unknown (read: the Iraq War or Libyan War), Cruz is suggesting we follow Kirkpatrick’s advice in supporting unpleasant “authoritarian” leaders. With more than a few intellectual contortions, Kirkpatrick’s references to Somoza and the Shah could be scratched and replaced with Bashar al-Assad and Muammar al-Qaddafi”.

The writer goes on to argue “In the sum, the core of Cruz’s message is this: I’m a literate, tough-minded heir to Ronald Reagan and I see the world as it is. But Cruz’s preferred self-image relies on a highly distorted reflection. Begin with the fact that Reagan was highly selective in how he applied Kirkpatrick’s ideas. In Guatemala and El Salvador, for example, the administration supported murderous right-wing, but reliably anti-communist, dictatorships perpetrating awful crimes against their people. (Guatemala’s then leader, Efraín Ríos Montt, is to be retried for genocide in January.) But in the Philippines, Reagan eventually came round to the idea of pressuring the autocratic Ferdinand Marcos to step down from power, repudiating a key element of Kirkpatrick’s thesis. Indeed, Marcos once offered an after-dinner toast to Kirkpatrick that quoted verbatim from “Dictatorships and Double Standards” — for all the good it did him”.

Controversially he writes “Kirkpatrick’s ideas remain far from the mainstream of either political party in the United States. She was a civilisational pessimist who wanted her nation to ruthlessly follow its core interests, not act upon universal values. In this sense, she shared a similarity with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, whose support for anti-communist strongmen mirrored her own”.

This is simply not true. The Hamiltonian and Jacksonian schools both adhere to an intensely realist view of the world with power and interests key to US actions. Of course that is not to say these are the only schools of the tradition. Others, notably the Wilsonian school can also be incorporated into an administration’s foreign policy with Bush 41, 43 and Clinton all being recent examples of this mix.

The author adds correctly, “Reagan accomplished something in his second term that Kirkpatrick thought impossible: He formed a close working relationship with a Marxist-Leninist who implemented policies — Glasnost and Perestroika — that served to mellow a “radical totalitarian” regime. Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union, was the very thing that Kirkpatrick’s theory held as implausible. When Cruz said in his speech, “we could do worse, in my opinion, than adopting the Reagan-Kirkpatrick philosophy today,” he neglected to note the massive gulf that separated the two”.

He ends “After all, Syrians struggling to survive a hellish civil war in which Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State are the principal antagonists do not “learn to cope … in the miserable roles they are destined to fill.” They flee and they die. And contrary to Kirkpatrick’s world-weary claim, places like Syria, whatever else is true about them, most certainly “create refugees.”

The Western hating left

14/12/2015

Given the beginning of UK bombing of ISIS a interesting piece in the Economist argues that the Left must reject anti-Western notions prevalent in among its members ““DO WE have Syrians?” interjects a woman. A brief silence. The gathering in Manchester’s Central Library is pondering who might take the microphone at its upcoming protest against plans to bomb Islamic State in Syria. On the list so far: Labour Party MPs, MEPs, councillors, the Green Party, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, musicians, poets, trade unionists and “definitely a student of some sort”. Phone messages have been left, e-mails fired off and brains racked for names of old-time peaceniks”.

The piece adds “Only now has the idea of asking a Syrian arisen. “There’s a big Syrian group,” murmurs one. “But they’re not anti,” continues another, disgusted: “They were lobbying for Britain to bomb Assad.” Those present sigh as one. On to the logistics of the event. It is decided that stewards should guard the mic, poised to fend off any “pro-war Syrians or imperialists”. After all, notes the chairman: “We know what we’re talking about here.” Would that BBC Manchester possessed such discernment. The station is interviewing pro-war Kurds tomorrow, to the group’s distain: “They dig ’em up.” “Amazing how they find them!” Such is the eye-swivelling world of Stop the War, the organisation that, though not the same as the anti-war movement (dominated by decent, mild-mannered types), is its main organising force and has a record of sidelining the very peoples in whose interest it professes to act”.

The piece goes on “Rethink Rebuild, the Syrian society in Manchester, requested a speaking slot at its Don’t Bomb Syria meeting there in October, but was ignored. It claims: “The Syrian voice was marginalised throughout the event.” Other Stop the War gatherings have followed that pattern. At one in Westminster Syrians criticising the unrepresentative panel were jeered at and the police called; in Birmingham a Syrian invited to speak was disinvited and branded a supporter of imperialism for backing a no-fly zone. This knack for alienating its notional beneficiaries goes all the way back to Stop the War’s foundation in 2001 by (among others) the Socialist Workers Party, an authoritarian far-left outfit. At one of its first conferences Iraqi and Iranian delegates quit when their motion condemning “Islamic terrorism” was defeated”.

Worryingly, though not surprisingly it  continues “That is the thing with Stop the War. It is not anti-war so much as anti-West; a permanent howl of relativist anguish at NATO and its members. For example, the group could hardly be more indulgent of Vladimir Putin’s wars. It defended the invasion of Georgia as a reaction to “the ambition of the USA to exercise global hegemony”, called many of the Maidan protesters in Kiev neo-Nazis and excused Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. Tellingly, at its “anti-war” demonstration in London on December 1st a poster emblazoned with Syrian flags and the slogan “Support For Bashar Al-Assad” was brandished above the crowd”.

The piece adds “The phenomenon has precedent. In 1941 George Orwell described part of the left as “sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British.” In 2007 “What’s Left?”, a book by Nick Cohen, charted the latter-day manifestations of the same instinct: cozying up to Milosevic’s Serbia, blaming America for the 9/11 attacks and, in debates on the Iraq war, conspicuously overlooking Baathism’s horrors. The book was part of a push by those lefties dismayed by their Stop the War-ish comrades to remake the case for Western engagement in the name of egalitarian and Enlightenment values. Another was the Euston Manifesto, a call (so named as it was devised in a pub on the Euston Road) for the left to make “common cause with genuine democrats, whether socialist or not”. The election of Jeremy Corbyn, Stop the War’s chairman, as Labour’s leader in September confirmed the manifesto’s marginalisation”.

Interestingly the writer notes “Corbyn has handed over the reins of Stop the War, but to say he remains close would be an understatement. He declined to condemn it or pull out of a fundraising event when, after the Paris attacks, the group inevitably proclaimed: “Paris reaps whirlwind of Western support for extremist violence in Middle East”. One of his shadow foreign ministers appeared to suggest that Labour would consult Stop the War ahead of the parliamentary vote on air strikes. The organisation has also engaged with Momentum, the pressure group created out of Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign. The two bodies collaborated in the run-up to the vote, inviting each other’s speakers to events and promoting each other’s efforts to lobby MPs. Together they form the institutional hub of the Labour leader’s inner circle”.

It mentions that “And this is just the start. When Mr Corbyn, under pressure from his shadow ministers, decided on November 30th to offer his MPs a free vote on Syria, Stop the War condemned the move and sent its march past Labour’s headquarters. With moderate Labour MPs under threat of deselection by new, Corbynite party members, the impending publication of Sir John Chilcot’s report on the Iraq war (which unravelled into a disaster on Tony Blair’s watch) and the ongoing battle against Islamic State, this group—“a madcap coalition of Trots, Islamists and anti-West fury chimps”, as one former Labour MP puts it—will continue to play a central role in the politics of Britain’s main opposition party. This is a dismal state of affairs”.

Correctly he makes the point that “Britain’s left has a rich tradition, dating to the Spanish civil war and beyond, of treating tyranny in one country as a crime against all; of heeding the bell that “tolls for thee”. True to that tradition, some Labour MPs used a Commons session on the Paris attacks on November 17th to decry Stop the War and its influence. “Does the prime minister agree that full responsibility for the attacks in Paris lies solely with the terrorists?” asked Emma Reynolds. Such pointed comments were a good start, but only that. Now, this wing of Labour must assert itself: providing cover for MPs targeted for deselection, a platform for those denied one by Stop the War and an emphatic rebuttal of its anti-West rhetoric. It is time for the left to return to Euston”.

 

“Executed nine men and a boy it accused of being gay”

29/09/2015

The Islamic State jihadist group executed nine men and a boy it accused of being gay in central and northern Syria on Monday, a monitoring group said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jihadists shot dead seven men in Rastan, a town in Homs province of central Syria, “after accusing them of being homosexual.” IS also executed two men and the boy in the town of Hreitan, in the northern province of Aleppo, for the same reason, said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. He said the executions were carried out in public, but that IS fighters destroyed any cameras that had been used to film the killings”.

“Destroyed a 2,000-year-old statue of a lion outside the museum”

07/07/2015

Islamic State jihadis have destroyed a 2,000-year-old statue of a lion outside the museum in the Syrian city of Palmyra, the country’s antiquities director has said. Maamoun Abdelkarim said the statue, known as the Lion of al-Lat, was an irreplaceable piece. “IS members on Saturday destroyed the Lion of al-Lat, which is a unique piece that is three metres [10ft] tall and weighs 15 tonnes,” Abdelkarim told AFP. “It’s the most serious crime they have committed against Palmyra’s heritage.” Satellite monitoring is one of a series of steps Unesco’s director general is proposing to tackle damage and destruction that she calls ‘cultural cleansing’ The limestone statue was discovered in 1977 by a Polish archaeological mission at the temple of al-Lat, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess, and dated back to the 1st century BC. Abdelkarim said the statue had been covered with a metal plate and sandbags to protect it from fighting, “but we never imagined that IS would come to the town to destroy it.” Isis captured Palmyra, a Unesco world heritage site, from government forces on 21 May, prompting international concern about the fate of the city’s antiquities. So far the most famous sites have been left intact, though there have been reports that Isis has mined them. Most of the pieces in the city’s museum were evacuated by antiquities staff before Isis arrived. The group has blown up several historic Muslim graves in recent weeks. Some of the most beautiful and well-preserved ruins of antiquity face destruction as forces loyal to Assad withdraw to western strongholds. On Thursday the group released photos showing its members in Aleppo destroying several statues from Palmyra they had caught being smuggled through the northern province.

Francis ousts Neinstedt

16/06/2015

Rocco reports on the scandal from the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis. He opens “After two years of damning charges and revelations on several misconduct-related fronts, the Pope has moved on the beleaguered Twin Cities church with a historic wipeout of its top leadership”.

Rocco goes on to write that “the Holy See announced that Francis had accepted the resignations of both Archbishop John Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis (above) and his senior auxiliary, Bishop Lee Piché, an unprecedented joint ouster coming just ten days after Minnesota’s lead diocese was hit with six criminal charges of child endangerment in the case of Curtis Wehmeyer, a laicized cleric who admitted to abusing three boys in 2012 after years of concerns raised to archdiocesan officials over his conduct. With Rome unprepared to name a new archbishop immediately, the Vatican likewise revealed that Coadjutor-Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Newark – Francis’ first top-level US appointee, and a figure widely admired for his mix of administrative skill, pastoral heart and an unimpeachable integrity – had been named apostolic administrator of the 825,000-member archdiocese, entrusted with the full powers of the archbishop until a permanent successor can emerge. Among other imminent challenges the archdiocese faces include the fallout of Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, another year remaining in the Minnesota “window” law which has suspended the statute of limitations for the filing of civil sex-abuse cases, the court process for the criminal charges and a state of morale among priests and people”.

Rocco adds that “In brief statements released upon Rome’s announcement, both Nienstedt, 68, and Piché, 57 – who became the archbishop’s top deputy shortly after Nienstedt’s 2008 succession – spoke of a need for the archdiocese to move forward. ‘My leadership has unfortunately drawn attention away from the good works of [the] Church and those who perform them,’ the archbishop said”.

Rocco goes on to mention that “For his part, Piché – a Columbia graduate who, before serving as auxiliary and vicar-general, was Wehmeyer’s pastor in the abuser’s first assignment – conceded that ‘the people of the archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis need healing and hope. I was getting in the way of that, and so I had to resign.’ Notably, the move comes as the Twin Cities presbyterate begins their annual convocation in Rochester, some 90 miles south of the archdiocese’s hub. In a letter to the priests obtained by his former canonical Chancellor, Jennifer Haselberger – whose whistle-blowing on the Chancery’s handling of cases in late 2013 sparked the long-simmering tumult – Nienstedt relayed that he ‘would have preferred to share this with you in person, but the desire of the Holy See to announce this made it impossible to wait until [the Rochester gathering] to tell you.'”

The report then mentions that “it is unclear what drove the Vatican to determine that the positions of both the archbishop and his lead auxiliary had become untenable. Beyond the corporate charges and the ongoing civil litigation over the abuse cases, Nienstedt – whose outspoken conservatism made him a polarizing figure in the archdiocese since his 2007 arrival – was likewise the subject of a Chancery-sponsored probe last year by a private law firm over allegations of misconduct with adult males. No conclusions of the latter process have emerged”.

Interestingly he writes that “a top-tier push to bring a resolution to the situation became apparent last week at the USCCB June meeting in St Louis, as several senior officials – including the Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, and the conference’s general secretary, Msgr Ronny Jenkins – were seen huddled in conversations late last Tuesday with the Twin Cities’ junior auxiliary, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, while a relaxed-looking Nienstedt (in shirtsleeves without his clerical collar) holed up across the Hyatt lobby with the bench’s vice-president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, whose longstanding close ties to Hebda from their days as priests of Pittsburgh would indicate his role as a likely architect of the striking arrangement that’s seen the Jersey archbishop shipped in to begin containing the fiasco”.

Rocco writes that “Currently the chair of the bishops’ committee on canonical affairs and church governance, before his 2010 appointment as bishop of Gaylord in northern Michigan, Hebda served as the #3 official at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, the Holy See’s clearinghouse for juridical questions. Known universally as “Bernie” and just as well-regarded among clerics and layfolk alike, the incoming administrator’s easygoing, unpretentious style conceals a considerable CV: degrees from Harvard, Columbia Law and the Gregorian, a chaplain to Blessed Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity as well as a years-long assignment as the lead canonist guiding the global Caritas federation of the church’s charitable agencies through the recent daunting revision of its statutes. In 2013, the new Pope shocked most observers by tapping the then 54 year-old as archbishop-in-waiting of the 1.4 million-member Newark church, one of the US’ ten largest, amid controversy over Archbishop John Myers’ handling of the case of Michael Fugee, a priest found to be working with young people despite a history of misconduct”.

He goes on to write that “Keeping to his usual earthy ways, Hebda chose to live in a chaplain’s room in the dorms at the diocesan-owned Seton Hall University, where he regularly celebrates the 10pm Sunday liturgy for students. As one colleague of the archbishop’s from Hebda’s former side-role as a spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College recently said of the prelate, “Our Lady of Humility” – the NAC’s historic patron – “has her arms wrapped all around him.” While Hebda could theoretically be tapped as the next Twin Cities’ archbishop, such a move would ostensibly be unlikely, even if it would hearken back to the early 1990s strategy (employed in Atlanta and Santa Fe) of initially “test-piloting” a potential successor as administrator of a scandal-scarred archdiocese before giving him the permanent appointment. If anything, with the coadjutor perceived as being largely kept to a backseat role in the operations of the considerably larger Newark church, the Twin Cities arrangement allows Hebda a role for his gifts to be employed to their fullest extent over the remaining 13 months before Myers reaches the retirement age of 75 in late July 2016″.

Crucially Rocco notes that “In a signal of the rapid execution of the move, the newly-named administrator was not present at a morning press conference outside the Twin Cities Chancery, which was instead led by Cozzens, 47, who has handled the archdiocese’s public messaging over recent months given the scrutiny facing both Nienstedt and Piché. In his own statement as a nearby bell tolled, the auxiliary said that the long season of scandal “has been a painful process. A change in leadership provides us an opportunity for greater healing and the ability to move forward”.

Later reports note that “Ramsey County authorities are investigating personal ties between former Archbishop John Nienstedt and the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, a former priest now serving time in prison for sexually molesting two boys in his parish, say sources familiar with the investigation into the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The inquiry is part of the county attorney’s ongoing probe into the archdiocese’s alleged lax handling of Wehmeyer, a priest known for sexual misconduct and alcohol problems. The criminal complaint filed earlier this month against the archdiocese cited multiple examples over years of Nienstedt’s failure to act on troubling information about Wehmeyer”.

The piece goes on to add, “Jennifer Haselberger, a former chancery canon lawyer who warned Nienstedt about Wehmeyer, said she was interviewed Monday by the county attorney’s office “regarding their ongoing investigation into potential criminal charges against Nienstedt, [former bishop Lee] Piché and/or other Chancery officials.” She said she was asked about any connections between Nienstedt and Wehmeyer, in particular about the questions she may have been asked by the Greene Espel law firm. The firm was hired in 2014 by the archdiocese to investigate allegations of sexual improprieties between Nienstedt and seminarians and priests before he became archbishop”.

Economist 2015:Cuts and savings

24/04/2015

Continuing the coverage of the Economist of the UK general election. It notes the differences of the parties on the economy. It begins “ALL the big political parties agree: Britain badly needs to get its public finances in order. The country probably borrowed about £90 billion, or 5% of GDP, in the 2014-15 fiscal year—more than Italy, France or even Greece. Yet the parties do not agree in the slightest on how much further borrowing ought to fall, or how to bring it down. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power in 2010 declaring that deficit reduction was “the most urgent issue facing Britain” and that it should be achieved mostly by cutting spending, not by raising taxes. Barely a month into his new job, the flinty Conservative chancellor, George Osborne, laid out a bold plan to do this. It turned out to be considerably more flexible than he implied”.

It goes on to mention “Osborne set out two targets. First and most important, the structural current deficit—that is, the deficit adjusted to reflect the economic cycle, and excluding investment—would be forecast to be in balance five years in the future. Second, national debt would fall as a percentage of GDP by 2015-16. At the time both targets sounded like a plan to finish the job of deficit reduction in one parliament. A euro crisis and sluggish growth quickly messed it up. The Treasury brought in less tax revenue than it had expected and had to spend more on benefits. As a result, borrowing stayed high”.

The author seems to think that this was all out of Osborne’s control. He could have easily borrowed less or taxed more but instead he was too afraid to do either of these as it would cut against his narrative of “fixing the country”. The result was the worst of both worlds.

The writer does admit that “ever more of the output lost to the recession was written off as gone forever, making more of the deficit look structural. Mr Osborne could have got back on track by cutting spending more deeply or raising taxes. Instead, he quietly allowed the completion date to slip. As long as the job was still forecast to be completed five years in the future, he had not missed his main goal”.

The piece goes on to mention that “Beyond the protective “ring-fence” the coalition erected around the NHS, schools and international aid, departmental budgets have been slashed by 21% on average. Local government is getting by on two-thirds of its pre-austerity budget. Public-sector employment has fallen from 6.3m to 5.4m. Civil servants’ pay was frozen for three years and then rose by only 1%. The government saved about £25 billion from the welfare budget, mainly by limiting annual increases and means-testing child benefit, a previously universal handout. (Other welfare reforms grabbed headlines without saving much money.) But an ageing population and generous increases in the state pension—which accounts for 40% of the welfare budget—have offset these savings. Overall, welfare spending has barely changed since 2010”.
This means that the cuts inflicted were worst on areas like defence, where the UK still insists on thinking of itself as a great power when it is really nothing of the sort. The refusal to cut the international aid budget is laughable but seems to be based wholly on polling data. The refusal of both main parties to cut it and transfer the money to defence or have smaller cuts elsewhere has not been countenanced. At the same time the savage cuts to welfare and the refusal to tax the richest in society has made this “rebalancing” not only immoral but in the long run dangerous. It has transferred vast amounts of wealth to the richest in society in the wrong belief that it will “trickle down” and all of society will therefore somehow benefit.

The piece adds “If the Tories win, Mr Osborne must do it all again. Provided the recovery is sustained, the chancellor wants a £7 billion overall surplus by the end of the parliament in 2020. Current government plans imply a further cut of 16% to departments outside the ring-fence, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a think-tank. That will be tough, for three reasons. First, the easiest cuts have been made. It is hard to see local government repeating the big savings made during this parliament, for example: councils will soon run up against their legal obligations to provide services. Reforms to university funding, which provided the bulk of the business department’s savings, were a one-off. Second, holding down public-sector salaries will become harder as private-sector pay rises. Third, the population is older and needier. The NHS says a freeze in its budget will not do—it wants an £8 billion boost”.

He goes on to note that “Labour promises only a surplus on the current budget, excluding investment—which on current plans will be £30 billion in today’s money (or 1.4% of GDP) in 2019-20. The party has not specified when exactly it would achieve this. By contrast, both coalition parties want current balance in 2017-18, which would demand deep cuts for two years. From then on, the Lib Dems would borrow about half the investment budget, putting them, as so often, in a middle ground. The SNP does not want to cut at all, and instead suggests a 0.5% annual boost to departments’ budgets. That would leave a small current budget deficit in 2020”.

The piece concludes “The gap between Labour and the Tories is huge—£30 billion amounts to about a quarter of the entire health budget. The IFS reckons Labour could, as a result, make no cuts and instead raise departmental budgets by 2%. The two parties have not been so far apart on fiscal policy for at least five elections. Labour does not emphasise this difference, for fear of looking spendthrift. But the choice facing voters is stark”.

“Clearly connected to Stéfanini being gay”

18/04/2015

“The Vatican has been dragging its feet on the approval of France’s ambassador to the Holy See, raising suspicions that it has effectively rejected the nomination of Laurent Stéfanini because he is gay. The Vatican declined to comment on speculation about the delay. Stéfanini, a 55-year-old practising Catholic, has been described in the Italian press as an exemplary candidate and a man of “exceptional culture”. He is a senior diplomat and chief of protocol in the French government of François Hollande. His nomination was put forward in January but the Vatican has not responded, usually an indication that the potential ambassador has been rejected. Reports in the French and Italian press suggested the decision was clearly connected to Stéfanini being gay. The controversy could tarnish Pope Francis’s image as being more tolerant than his predecessors over gay rights. When asked by a reporter in 2013 about the existence of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican, he responded: “Who am I to judge?” His words have been interpreted as a sign of some acceptance of gay people in a church that regards homosexual acts as a sin”.

 

Labour seeks tax justice

10/04/2015

As the 2015 UK general election continues it seems the voters have a stark choice. The Labour Party has said it will abolish the role that allows those that are not domiciled in the UK, and therefore pay no real taxes. The Tories meanwhile have said nothing about the patently immoral rule that benefits only the tiniest portion of the wealthiest.

A report from the Guardian notes “Labour has accused the Tories of deliberately misleading voters by editing an interview with Ed Balls as a row broke out over a pledge by Ed Miliband to abolish the non-domicile tax status for anyone living in Britain for more than three years. The Tories moved to unpick the announcement by the Labour leader by releasing a video of a BBC interview back in January in which the shadow chancellor said that abolishing non-dom status might lead to a fall in tax revenue. But the Tories edited out a crucial final sentence in which Balls told BBC Radio Leeds on 9 January: “But I think we can be tougher and we should be and we will.” Labour seized on the Tory editing of the Balls interview to accuse the Tories of misleading people to defend their refusal to tackle tax avoidance. The shadow chancellor blogged: “The Tories have edited my words from January in an attempt to deliberately mislead people because they can’t defend their own refusal to act on tax avoidance”.

Labour have a point. When the Tories should be agreeing with Labour to abolish this unjust and immoral rule that seeks to have people in London in the hope that their wealth would “trickle down” they in fact are more comfortable to play politics than seek the common good and protect those who do pay taxes and protect the poorest in society.

The report goes on to mention “The row has lit up Britain’s general election campaign after Miliband promised to abolish the non-dom rule, which allows many of Britain’s richest permanent residents to avoid paying tax in the UK on their worldwide income, for those who are based in Britain for more than two to three years. Labour said the rule, introduced by William Pitt the Younger in the late 18th century, has been open to abuse and offends the moral basis of taxation. Everyone who has made the UK their permanent home should pay full UK tax on all their income and gains, Miliband argued”.

The piece adds “George Osborne, conscious of poll findings that the Tories are seen as the party of the rich, realised overnight that he had to tread carefully in response to a Labour plan to crack down on multi-millionaires. Osborne therefore moved to unpick the announcement by saying that Labour was merely planning to tinker with the non-dom tax status on the grounds that the rule would remain in place for beneficiaries who stay in the UK for under two to three years. The Tories then released a video of the shadow chancellor’s January interview in which Balls suggested that abolishing the non-dom rule could lower tax revenues by encouraging some wealthy people to leave the UK. The edited video shows Balls saying: “I think that it is important that you make sure the non-dom rules work in a fair way. I think they were too lax in the past. Both the last Labour government and this Conservative government have tightened them up”.

In an attempt to defend these people who generally do not pay tax and yet use all the services in the UK some have argued that there will be a flight from the UK. However, this argument overlooks the obvious fact that they pay only £90,000 a year, at most, on an income that is millions a year. Whatever “loss” to the coffers of the state would be minimal as so little money is raised anyway. Labour should have launched this policy years ago but all the Tories could do was pick at a few words while avoiding the larger issue.

Francis backs a coverup

04/04/2015

The Vatican has responded to public outcry against Pope Francis’ naming of a new bishop in Chile accused of covering up sexual abuse, saying the bishop’s candidature was “carefully examined” prior to his appointment but no “objective reasons” were found to preclude it. Marking a rare reaction to public criticism against a bishop’s appointment, the Vatican press office released a 19-word statement Tuesday in three languages regarding Bishop Juan Barros Madrid. Chilean clergy sexual abuse survivors accuse Barros, who was installed March 21 as head of the diocese of Osorno, Chile, amid protests in the cathedral, of covering up abuse by Fr. Fernando Karadima when Barros was a priest. Members of Francis’ Vatican commission on clergy sex abuse have also criticized the appointment, saying in NCR interviews last week they are concerned and surprised at the pope’s decision. The Vatican’s statement Tuesday, made by Holy See Press Office Vice Director Passionist Fr. Ciro Benedettini, does not address any specific criticisms”.

UKIP expenses scandal

29/03/2015

Allegations of a “serious financial nature” against a UKIP MEP and general election candidate “couldn’t look worse”, Nigel Farage has said. Janice Atkinson, MEP for the South East, was due to fight the Folkestone and Hythe seat on 7 May. She was suspended after a Sun newspaper investigation into an apparent expenses claim by a member of her staff. Kent Police said it was investigating a fraud allegation. Party leader Mr Farage said: “It looks very bad – it couldn’t look worse and I’m astonished by it.”

Bibi halts the withdrawals

15/03/2015

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a campaign statement Sunday, “There will be no withdrawals” from the occupied West Bank and “no concessions” to the Palestinians, renewing questions about his declared commitment to the two-state solution. The statement issued by Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party came in response to a reporter’s query about whether the prime minister still stood by his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University endorsing the concept of a Palestinian state, and ended, “This thing is simply not relevant.” But after the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Mr. Netanyahu had said the Bar-Ilan speech was no longer relevant, his office issued a late-night statement of its own saying, “The prime minister has never stated such a thing.” The apparent contradictions between Mr. Netanyahu’s political and governmental apparatuses came as he is struggling to shore up support in his conservative base and win over voters in West Bank settlements before March 17 elections. It might have been more hairsplitting than actual disagreement: both statements cited the chaotic regional situation and said Israel would not cede territory for fear of takeover by Islamists. Mr. Netanyahu, who is seeking a historic fourth term, was already fending off criticism from politicians further to the right after a report on Fridayb that his special envoy, Isaac Molho, agreed in secret talks with an adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority in 2013 to negotiate based on the lines that demarcated Israel before the 1967 war. Mr. Netanyahu’s office said that the document revealed in the report, by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, was never agreed to and that in any case it was only an American statement of principles on which Mr. Molho and Mr. Abbas would have been allowed to express reservations, something the American involved in the secret channel, Dennis B. Ross, confirmed”.

Intervention of Cardinal Nichols

09/03/2015

A report from the Telegraph details the intervention of Vincent Cardinal Nichols in British politics, urging justice. It opens “The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has condemned the Government for presiding over “shocking” levels of poverty and deprivation. Cardinal Vincent Nichols called on Tuesday for Catholics to judge candidates in this year’s General Election by what they intend to do to improve the lives of the poor. He said: “I’ve commented before on what I believe to be some of the unintended consequences of social welfare reform we see. I repeat; it’s shocking that in a society that is as rich as our there are people, even people in employment, dependant on food banks and hand-outs.” The Cardinal was speaking at the launch of a leaflet being sent to all Catholic parishes in England and Wales, urging members of the church to become actively involved in the political debate in the run up to May’s election”.

The report mentions that “He emphasised that it was the duty of Catholics, and other citizens to engage in discussion, cast their votes and ignore commentators such as Russell Brand, who claim there is no point voting because ‘all politicians are the same’. Cardinal Nichols said: “I’d ask them to pay more attention to me than to him [Brand]. We are citizens and we are called on to take part in society. Stir yourself”.

The piece goes on to state “The Cardinal’s call for more to be done to help the worse off follows a letter issued by the Church of England’s bishops last week, attacking the effect of the coalition’s policies on the poor. In their letter Anglican bishops condemned the legacy of Thatcherism and its emphasis on consumerism and individualism. The 52-page letter was attacked by Conservative politicians as being a ‘shopping list’ of left-wing demands.  Although the Catholic bishops’ letter to parishioners neither attacks nor endorses any party by name, it urges voters to decide on the basis of where candidate stand on the issue of poverty”.

The article adds “In its letter the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales urges Catholics to ask “where does your candidate stand on directly helping the poorest and most vulnerable people in the UK and also helping to transform their lives”. Addressing education policy it says politicians should be trying to “ensure the best outcomes for the poorest children.” The four-page letter, 700,000 copies of which are being sent to parishes up and down the country, bemoans the fact that “rising inequality, increased loneliness for older people, job insecurity and over stretched community services” has made life more difficult for many and calls for business and the private sector to do more to meet people’s needs. “The market economy exists to serve humanity. People are not merely economic units to be exploited,” it states”.

The report rightly ends “The Cardinal repeated the Catholic church’s strong support for the living wage, saying that party candidates should be quizzed on their attitude to fair pay. He said that all Catholic organisations and charities tried to ensure not only that they paid their employees the Living Wage, and – in the case of those working in the capital – the London Living Wage, but that the church’s suppliers and contractors did so too.”

 

 

Greece, the eurozone and German bankers

10/02/2015

An excellent article reports on the problems in German bankers.

It starts, “Why did Germany try so hard to stop the European Central Bank from giving the eurozone a trillion-euro boost? Why did Germany decree fiscal austerity for Greece instead? And why, despite Greece’s travails and alleged duplicity, does Germany insist that Greece stay in the eurozone? These actions may have seemed irrational and contradictory, but the same people benefited in every case. First, consider Germany’s recent economic history. In 1990, the reunification of the East and West added an enormous, low-wage population of Germans to the labour supply. Though integrating them into the West’s business environment took time, these millions of new laborers in the workforce instantly made German exports more competitive. Then, with the launch of the euro in 1999, Germany diluted its currency — among the strongest in the world — by mingling it with those of less stable economies from across the European Union. Again, the effect was a huge boost to German exports”.

He adds “Indeed, in the first decade, incomes for Germans from top to bottom on the economic ladder rose by about 7 to 8 percent in real terms. But with the advent of the euro, things started to change. Incomes at the top kept rising, with gains for the top 10 percent of earners continuing apace for the next decade as shareholders reaped record profits. At the bottom, however, there was a sharp dip that eventually left incomes exactly where they started at the beginning of the 1990s”.

Of course, as is often the case, the poorest are hit most, “The effect on inequality was startling. By itself, the integration of East and West should have reduced German inequality substantially. In a country where labor retained some bargaining power, the export boom might have been expected to encourage this convergence as well. Yet Germans at the top of the income distribution saw such an upturn in their fortunes that inequality actually rose. With incomes continuing to diverge, Germany’s wealth inequality was the worst in the eurozone and almost on a par with that of the United States, which was no mean feat”.

He argues that QE was opposed by bankers and others in the ECB, “Instead, they decided that countries in need of an economic lifeline — like Greece — should keep making massive cuts in public services while servicing debts on terms set by wealthier nations such as Germany. For most economists, this was an impractical prescription that would only make the patient suffer more. So why did the Germans insist on it? The bankers in Berlin realised that inflation eroded the value of savings, of which their wealthy countrymen had quite a lot, and also made German investments less attractive to foreigners. As long as Germany continued to grow, they had no use for inflation. In fact, growth with low inflation — and thus little upward pressure on wages — was a perfect formula, especially for owners of capital. Indebted and unemployed Germans might have benefited from a weaker euro and more inflation, just like the Greeks, but they clearly weren’t the bankers’ top priority”.

Thankfully he notes that “Greece is calling Germany’s bluff. A few years ago, the Germans wanted Greece to stay in the eurozone enough to bail them out of their fiscal deficits, but the cost was penury for the Greeks. Back then, Germany seemed to have all the bargaining power. But Greece’s new leftist government has apparently realized that the real bargaining power lies in Athens, because Germany will now do anything to hold the eurozone together. Germans have read plenty of articles alleging that Athens never should have been allowed to join the eurozone in the first place. But the bankers in Berlin know that each weak country that leaves the eurozone now is likely to push up the value of the euro”.

He concludes “Today, this cluster of threats is unacceptable to Germany. As its growth rate slowed, so did its bankers’ priorities and, as a consequence, the balance of power in the eurozone. The Greeks figured this out, and other countries are cottoning on. But it was a good run for wealthy Germans while it lasted”.

Welby poses some questions

21/01/2015

An article in the Daily Telegraph has reported on a new book launched as the 2015 General Election campaign begins, informally at least.

The piece starts “Britain under the Coalition is a country in which the poor are being “left behind” and entire cities “cast aside” because politicians are obsessed with Middle England, the Church of England says today in a damning assessment of the state of the nation. In a direct and unapologetically “political” intervention timed for the beginning of the General Election campaign, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, warn party leaders are selling a “lie” that economic growth is the answer to Britain’s social problems”.

Yet the same newspaper defends the fact that the Church of England is a state church. At the same time they moan that the Church of England has a voice in politics. Which is it to be? The other alternative interpretation is that they are against those with religious views having a say in the public sphere at all.

The real reason for the paper’s reaction was the questioning by the Church of England of a bankrupt economic theory that has destroyed the world and brought misery to millions, while making a small elite even wealthier. This is the true reason for the reaction of the paper to the comments by the bishops.

The report goes on to note that the prelates were “Questioning David Cameron’s slogan “we’re all in this together” they condemn inequality as “evil” and dismiss the assumption that the value of communities is in their economic output as a “sin”. Britain, they argue has been “dominated” by “rampant consumerism and individualism” since the Thatcher era, while the Christian values of solidarity and selflessness have been supplanted by a new secular creed of “every person for themselves”. And while London and the South East forge ahead, much of the rest of the country is still “trapped in apparently inevitable decline”, they argue”.

It is true that the South East has been almost recession proof, apart from the parts that are already deprived which will soon be filled with wealthy people and push those who have been living there for years out, but this is not the fault of Cameron per se but is more down to geography and other long held factors that he has chosen not to fix. In reality the point of the bishops is correct. A toxic individualism has prevailed and is bearing its rotten fruit in the form of societal decay and sin.

The piece adds that “The challenge to politicians and voters alike is contained in a new volume of essays to be published next week, edited by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, and including lengthy contributions from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, the former Labour Cabinet minister Lord Adonis and others. It sets out an excoriating critique of a country “ill at ease with itself” amid a widening “gulf” between rich and poor, between the capital and the rest of the country and between politicians and voters. The book, entitled “On Rock or Sand?”, explicitly invites comparisons with Faith in the City, the Church of England report published 30 years ago which was attacked by Conservatives as “pure Marxist theology””.

Yet this is exactly the kind of thing Rush Limbaugh said about Pope Francis. All this has done however is made fools of those who attack the Gospel and its values while they try and defend greed, sin, gross inequality, materialism and excess.

The article ends “The book characterises the welfare state as the embodiment of the Christian command to “love thy neighbour” and warns that people should not rely on what the founding father of free-market capitalism Adam Smith called the “invisible hand” of the market to create a fair society”.

It closes “Archbishop Welby provides a bleak assessment of the economic recovery in Britain claiming that “entire towns and regions” have been excluded and “trapped in an apparently inescapable economic downward spiral”. “Our economy appears to be, in one sense, a tale of two cities – one being a growing and constantly improving London (and the South East generally), and the other being most, but not all, other cities, alike in that they are each trapped in apparently inevitable decline,” he writes. Spending cuts have, he adds, helped widen that gap. “The hard truth is that many of these cities are in what appear to be lose-lose situations”.

The report concludes “But the archbishops go on to reject what they characterise as an obsession with economic growth as the solution to social problems. “There is a general social assumption that the economy has the power to dictate what is and is not possible for human beings,” Archbishop Welby writes. “We believe that if we can fix the economy, the fixing of human beings will automatically follow. “That is a lie. “It is a lie because it is a narrative that casts money, rather than humanity, as the protagonist of God’s story.” Dr Sentamu adds that a post-war vision through which the welfare state and NHS developed has “given way to an individualist and consumerist vision, with public goods such as health … and education … increasingly becoming privatised, where society has become a market society, with everything going to the highest bidder and the poor being left behind in the unceasing drive to increase the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.” Setting out his own vision, Archbishop Welby adds: “Our human journey is not a journey of individuals, it is a journey held in common, and no individual can safely be left behind”.

In a related article, though hardly a surprise, David Cameron defends a system based on radical inequality, mass poverty, unemployment, deprivation and greed, “David Cameron has said that he “profoundly disagrees” with the leaders of the Church of England after they accused the Coalition of creating a country in which the poor are being “left behind”. The Prime Minister pledged to speak “vigorously in defence” of his Government’s economic record after the Archbishops of Canterbury and York accused him and Britain’s other political leaders of selling a “lie” that economic growth is the answer to social problems”.

The sad fact is that all the figures say that Cameron is wrong. They all point to the fact that poverty levels are rising and people are being punished for being poor with all the ignorance that comes with this. They are accused of being lazy but politicians in safe seats with half a dozen directorships to top up their income are in no way fit to judge in such harsh terms the lives of others.

The report mentions that “Cameron insisted that the Coalition has is successfully tackling poverty and that improving people’s lives across the country can only be done when the economy is strong. He said: “Also, we are tackling poverty by giving 1.75million more people a job in our country. Actually under this Government inequality has fallen so I don’t think the picture they paint is accurate. “I look forward to debating and discussing it with them. They have a right to speak out as long as they don’t mind when I speak pretty vigorously in defence of the excellent economic and social record of this government. “The fact is you can’t do any of these things in terms of tackling poverty, growing opportunity, rebalancing the economy unless you have a strong economy and we have restored or are restoring the strength of the British economy.” The Archbishops said that Britain has been “dominated” by “rampant consumerism and individualism” since the Thatcher era”.

1,878 in six months

07/01/2015

The Islamic State militant group has killed 1,878 people in Syria during the past six months, the majority of them civilians, a British-based Syrian monitoring organization said on Sunday. Islamic State also killed 120 of its own members, most of them foreign fighters trying to return home, in the last two months, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The militant group has taken vast parts of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in territory under its control in June. Since then it has fought the Syrian and Iraqi governments, other insurgents and Kurdish forces. Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Syrian monitoring group, told Reuters that Islamic State killed 1,175 civilians, including eight women and four children”.

“An assault on a crowded school”

20/12/2014

First the Pakistani Taliban bombed or burned over 1,000 schools. Then they shot Malala Yousafzai, the teenage advocate for girls’ rights. But on Tuesday, the Taliban took their war on education to a ruthless new low with an assault on a crowded school in Peshawar that killed 145 people — 132 of them uniformed schoolchildren — in the deadliest single attack in the group’s history. During an eight-hour rampage at the Army Public School and Degree College, a team of nine Taliban gunmen stormed through the corridors and assembly hall, firing at random and throwing grenades. Some of the 1,100 students at the school were lined up and slaughtered with shots to the head. Others were gunned down as they cowered under their desks, or forced to watch as their teachers were riddled with bullets. Their parents crowded around the school gates, praying their children would survive while listening to the explosions and gunfire as Pakistani commandos stormed the building”.

Francis = Benedict

04/12/2014

John Allen writes that Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are very alike. He begins “During a brief press conference aboard the papal plane yesterday, returning to Rome from a day trip to Strasbourg, a French journalist asked Pope Francis if he’s a Social Democrat. The question was based on a line from one of the pope’s speeches in Strasbourg in which he took a shot at multinational corporations. If you don’t follow European politics, the Social Democrats are the main center-left party, so it’s a bit like an American asking the pope if he’s a Democrat. Francis actually laughed out loud, and then said: ‘Caro, questo è un riduzionismo!’ The Italian basically translates as, ‘My dear friend, that’s an over-simplification!’ Francis went on to talk about how he tries to follow the Gospel and the social teaching of the Catholic Church, not any party line, and ended by thanking the reporter, Renaud Bernard of France 2 TV, for cracking him up”.

Allen goes on to make the point that “In truth, the idea of Francis as a Social Democrat in Strasbourg — and, therefore, as a repudiation of the Catholic Church’s perceived drift to the political right under Pope Benedict XVI — depends entirely on listening to only part of what Francis had to say. Yesterday’s trip was not only the shortest foreign trip in the papacy’s history, less than four hours, but it also set a record for the ratio of words spoken to time on the ground. His speech to the parliament topped out at 3,500 words and the one for the council came to 3,100, which means Francis pronounced 28 words for every minute he spent visiting Europe’s most prominent political institutions”.

He goes on to argue “In many ways, they were the closest Francis has come to the kind of rhetoric associated with Pope Benedict XVI, starting with lofty and abstract principles and then working down toward specific conclusions. The comparison with Benedict is even more apt at the level of content, because both of the speeches Francis delivered yesterday were ones it’s easy to imagine Benedict having given. Aside from the use of certain stock phrases associated with Benedict, such as ‘dictatorships of relativism,'”.

He continues citing the need of Europe for God, the examples of abortion and the treatment of those who are terminally ill as well as the idea, as Allen puts it “Secular Europe is running out of gas. Francis said that the world today has become ‘less and less Eurocentric,’ that today, Europe ‘gives the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard,’ and that it’s ‘less and less a protagonist.’ In part, the pope implied, that decline is due to an aversion to reproduction”.

Allen ends the article “Benedict XVI said similar things, but the difference is that media outlets today believe Francis means it and so such utterances draw wide play. In truth, Benedict had a social agenda every bit as populist as Francis. Benedict’s great uncle on his father’s side, Georg Ratzinger, was one of the towering Bavarian figures of the 19th century, a Catholic monsignor with a strong track record of engagement on behalf of the poor. He was twice elected to the Bavarian and the federal legislatures, and helped found a political party, the Bauerbund, which represented the interests of poor farmers against large capitalist industrial concerns. Its chief goal was a system of social supports that would insulate poor farmers and small traders from “boom and bust” cycles. As a result, Benedict had a strong streak of scepticism about free-market capitalism. When he traveled to Brazil in 2007, he defined both communism and capitalism as ‘failed ideologies,’ the kind of language Francis routinely invokes”.

Allen concludes “Still, the contrast between Francis and Benedict is only one part substance, while it’s every bit as much about perception. Never has that been clearer than Francis’ trip to Strasbourg, when he gave two speeches eerily reminiscent of his predecessor and still had to face questions about whether he stands on the political left. Had it been Benedict who journeyed into the heart of secular Europe and said the exact same things, the question likely would have been: “Holy Father, are you on the far right?” The difference has little to do with what Francis actually said, and everything to do with how the narrative dictates he should be perceived”.

A welcoming Church?

22/10/2014

A post discusess where the new welcoming language in the Synod emerged from. It opens, “It’s one of the great mysteries of the meeting on family life taking place behind closed doors at the Vatican this week: Just where did the authors of a draft report come up with such ground-breaking language that gays had gifts to offer the church, and that even same-sex partnerships had merit? Officially speaking, the draft report was a synthesis of the interventions from more than 200 bishops, a starting point for small working groups to propose amendments, elaborations, additions, and subtractions to the drafting committee preparing a final report that will be released on Saturday. But conservative cardinals have said their views were not reflected in the draft. They blasted the report as “unacceptable” and said it was in sore need of an overhaul”.

It notes “Cardinal Timothy Dolan said his fellow American, hardline Cardinal Raymond Burke, reflected the view of “a good number of people in saying, boy, this document is a rough draft, does it ever need major revisions.” “I think he’s right, he’s picked up on the side that a lot of bishops, and I would include myself, feel that it needs some major reworking,” Dolan told “CBS This Morning.” The most contentious passage is contained in three paragraphs of the 58-paragraph report under the heading “Welcoming homosexuals.” It starts off by saying gays “have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community.””

Ironically, these words are minor in comparison in comparison to what is in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church where gays can supposedly reach perfection if they follow the legalistic teachings of the Church.

The piece adds “There was no reference to Catholic doctrine that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered,” sinful, or that gay orientation was “objectively disordered.” Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo, the main author of the report or “relator,” defended the document, but acknowledged problems and said there was ample room for improvement. He told Vatican Radio that the 16 officials who drafted it struggled to synthesize the positions of 30-40 bishops on any given topic and rushed to finish it on time. He acknowledged that there may have been instances when the report said “many” bishops had proposed a certain position when only “some” had. But he said the final paper would provide “greater clarity, that doesn’t leave any doubt in any chapter because the faithful need a clear voice, an encouragement and an instruction.” Erdo has already named the official who wrote the section on gays, Monsignor Bruno Forte, appointed by Pope Francis as the special secretary to the synod. Forte is an Italian theologian known for pushing the pastoral envelope on dealing with people in “irregular” unions while staying true to Catholic doctrine”.

Importantly he makes the point that “Forte and all the members of the drafting committee had access to far more material than the bishops themselves since they had the lengthy written speeches each synod “father” submitted prior to the meeting. Those written speeches factored into the draft report, even if the bishops didn’t utter them during the four minutes each was allowed to speak. In fact, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said he recalled only one speech out of about 265 about gays during the debate. So it’s not surprising that bishops didn’t recognise everything in the draft report since these written submissions weren’t made public or distributed to the bishops themselves, and the oral presentations only reflected a summary or particular point that a bishop wanted to make. But at the same time, there is no real way to know which bishop or bishops had proposed such ground-breaking language or whether it was more a reflection of Forte’s view”.

He ends “As it is, he appointed a half-dozen perceived progressives to the final drafting committee after bishops themselves elected conservatives to head the working groups. These working groups will make proposed amendments, but in the end, it’s up to the drafting committee to write the final document that the bishops will vote to accept or not. None of Francis’ appointees are Africans, who are among the most conservative on family issues”.

The wonders of the free market

18/10/2014

Let’s say you are someone who has recently returned from traveling in West Africa. You have visited an Ebola-ravaged country. You are understandably worried about contracting the disease during this worst-ever epidemic and, upon returning home, you catch a fever. You might then go online to try to find information about the disease and to assess whether the crippling fear you are experiencing is, in fact, well placed. That search might lead you to Ebola.com, but little do you know that that site is nothing but a moneymaking ploy. In today’s information economy, there are few more useless money-grubbers than domain squatters, and that is exactly who owns Ebola.com. Blue String Ventures, the company sitting on the domain, is asking for a mere $150,000 to transfer ownership of the site”.

The Synod of gradualism?

16/10/2014

Amid Cardinal Burke’s seemingly endless interventions in the media an article reports from the ongoing Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

John Allen writes, “All of a sudden at the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the family, “gradualism” as a concept in both Catholic moral theology and pastoral practice, which not so long ago seemed on the verge of being stricken from the official lexicon, is back with a vengeance. There have been multiple references so far to the “law of graduality,” more commonly referred to by theologians over the years as “gradualism.” Its apparent popularity may offer a clue to how things are evolving in the keenly watched debate over divorced and remarried Catholics, but understanding why requires a bit of background. At one level, gradualism is no more than the common sense observation that virtues such as honesty and courage aren’t all-or-nothing propositions, and that people move towards them through stages and at different speeds. It implies that just because someone’s current situation falls short of perfection doesn’t mean it has no moral value, and it’s often better to encourage the positive elements in someone’s life rather than to chastise their flaws. It was probably that sense of gradualism Pope Benedict XVI had in mind in 2010 when he said in an interview with a German journalist that if a male prostitute uses a condom to try to avoid infecting people with HIV/AIDS, it can be “a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.” Benedict wasn’t repealing the church’s opposition to condom use, but he was saying that there are times when it suggests a concern for others which, in itself, is laudable. Where gradualism becomes more of a bone of contention is when it’s invoked to justify a permissive approach to moral rules”.

Allen goes on to write “For instance, some theologians and even a few bishops over the years have invoked gradualism to defend going easy on Catholics who practice birth control, arguing that while the teaching of Pope Paul VI in 1968’s Humanae Vitae reaffirming the traditional ban represents an ideal, there may be valid reasons why lots of people can’t be expected to fully embrace it right now. For those concerned with defending tradition, this second sense of gradualism can make it sound like another word for “relativism”, meaning watering down objective standards of morality. By the same token, it also makes gradualism a favorite refuge for moderates who accept the content of Church teaching, but who don’t want to go to war over it”.

Allen with his usual excellent insight writes “The last time the Vatican staged a Synod of Bishops on the family, which was almost 35 years ago in 1980, talk about gradualism was in the air, too. Pope John Paul II was sufficiently concerned about where it might lead that he included a warning in a homily he gave for the closing Mass of the synod, a line he then also dropped into the meeting’s concluding document, Familiaris Consortio. “What is known as ‘the law of gradualness’,” John Paul said, “cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law’.” The gist was there’s just one set of rules for everybody, and they’re not going to change. Since that time, the Vatican has occasionally circled back to the theme. When the Pontifical Council for the Family put out a guide for priests hearing confessions on matters having to do with married life in 1997, it warned that the “law of graduality” shouldn’t induce priests to send the signal that sin isn’t still sin”.

Interestingly Allen makes the point that “In his opening address on Monday, Cardinal Péter Erdő of Hungary argued that Humanae Vitae should be read in light of graduality. In a session with reporters at Vatican Radio Monday night, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich invoked graduality as a key to helping the church develop a new way of talking about sex. In a briefing session for reporters on Tuesday, a Vatican spokesman described graduality as among the synod’s emerging themes”.

The key point Allen adds is that “Here’s why the vocabulary matters: Everyone knows that the hottest issue at this synod is the question of whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics ought to be able to receive Communion. Moderates supporting that change need to find a way to justify it that doesn’t seem to call into question the principle that marriage is for life. “The law of graduality” could be one way of doing the trick, and thus references to it could be understood as an early show of strength for the moderate position. It’s also perhaps an index of how things have changed under Pope Francis that bishops feel licensed to use the phrase without a truckload of qualifications, given the increasingly disapproving tone of most Vatican statements on it in the recent past. In other words, the sudden return of gradualism may be a central part of the storyline about the 2014 synod”.

“Almost $9 billion”

01/07/2014

French bank BNP Paribas BNPP.PA on Monday agreed to pay almost $9 billion over charges it violated U.S. sanctions against countries such as Sudan, and faces a one-year suspension of parts of its U.S. dollar-clearing business. The bank also pleaded guilty to two criminal charges. The bank’s general counsel, Georges Dirani, briefly appeared in New York state court to plead guilty to one count of falsifying business records and one count of conspiracy. U.S. authorities found that BNP Paribas had evaded sanctions against a range of black-listed countries, in part by stripping information from wire transfers so they could pass through the U.S. system without raising red flags. “Through a series of egregious schemes to evade detection and with the knowledge of multiple senior executives, BNP employees concealed more than $190 billion in transactions between 2002 and 2012,” the New York State regulator, headed by Benjamin Lawsky, said in a press release”.

 

Coulson found guilty

26/06/2014

Yesterday the British political world was rocked by the verdicts in the phone hacking trial. The two most infamous News International executives, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson have been tried for eight months. Brooks was acquitted while most damning of all, Coulson was found guilty and will be sentenced at a later date.

A report in the Telegraph writes “Andy Coulson has been beenfound guilty in the phone hacking trial, but his co-defendant, Rebekah Brooks has been cleared of all charges. Coulson, who edited the News of the World before becoming Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman, now faces prison after the jury returned a guilty verdict in dramatic scenes at the Old Bailey”.

It adds “Mrs Brooks, who edited The Sun and the News of the World before promotion to News International chief executive, was exonerated after being cleared of conspiracy to hack phones, conspiracy to corrupt public officials and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. She was overcome by emotion on hearing the verdicts and was taken away by the court matron”.

The report goes on to mention “The trial, which has been one of the longest and most expensive in British criminal history, heard allegations of how journalists working at the News of the World and The Sun, under the stewardship of Mrs Brooks and Coulson, routinely broke the law in pursuit of exclusive stories. Jurors were told how reporters at the News of the World hacked hundreds of public and private figures, including celebrities, politicians and even victims of crime”.

The report continues, “The court heard how private detective Glenn Mulcaire, who was paid more than £100,000 a year by the News of the World, also hacked members of the royal family including Princes William and Harry and Kate Middleton. Their arrests, along with other senior colleagues at News International, followed widespread public revulsion after it emerged that among those who were hacked was the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler. Among those hacking victims who gave evidence at the trial were former Home Secretary Charles Clarke, the actor Jude Law and actress Sienna Miller. Retired managing editor Stuart Kuttner was also cleared of being part of a conspiracy dating back to 2000 and spanning six years”.

In what is obviously a weak attempt to repair the damage already done, David Cameron has apologised “Cameron has said that he is ‘profoundly sorry’ for employing Andy Coulson after his former director of communications was found guilty in the phone hacking trial. The Prime Minister said that he gave Coulson ‘a second chance and that was a bad decision’. He said that he takes ‘full responsibility’ for hiring Coulson, who edited the News of the World before becoming his official spokesman. Mr Cameron acknowledged that people would be ‘concerned’ at Coulson having worked for him in Downing Street both as leader of the opposition and Prime Minister, but stressed that there had been no complaints about his work in Downing Street. He said that before hiring Coulson, he had asked ‘questions about if he knew about phone hacking’ following his resignation from the News of the World”.

Yet it was George Osbourne that pushed for Coulson to be appointed despite Cameron being warned by Nick Clegg, Lord Ashdown, Lord Prescott as well as Andrew Tyrie and Alan Rusbridger. Still Cameron did nothing.

Coulson was appointed as Dowing Street Director of Communications six months after he resigned from the News of the World in the wake of the first phone hacking trial, which saw a private investigator as well as Clive Goodman, convicted of hacking phones of members of the royal household.

The report adds “Cameron said that Coulson had ‘said that he didn’t and I accepted those assurances and I gave him the job’. Speaking in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, Mr Cameron said: “I take full responsibility for employing Andy Coulson. ‘I did so on the basis of undertakings I was given by him about phone hacking and those turned out not to be the case. ‘I always said that if they turned out to be wrong, I would make a full and frank apology and I do that today.’ He added: ‘I am extremely sorry that I employed him. It was the wrong decision and I am very clear about that’  The Prime Minister added: ‘I would say that no one has made any complaints about the work that he did for me either as Leader of the Opposition or indeed here in Number 10 Downing Street, but knowing what I now know and knowing that those assurances weren’t right it was obviously wrong to employ him. I gave someone a second chance and it turned out to be a bad decision.’ George Osborne, the Chancellor, said: ‘We gave him a second chance but, knowing what we now know, it’s clear that we made the wrong decision.'”

Sensing a weak Cameron, as well as a chance to cover up for his own failings as leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband rightly lambasted Cameron, “The Labour leader launched a determined attack on David Cameron’s judgement after the Prime Minister’s former director of communications Andy Coulson was convicted of involvement in phone hacking while editor of the News of the World. Ed Miliband said that Mr Cameron had “brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street’ and his Government was ‘tainted’ as a result.’ In a televised statement, Mr Miliband said: “I think David Cameron has very, very serious questions to answer, because we now know that he brought a criminal into the heart of Downing Street. ‘David Cameron was warned about Andy Coulson, the evidence mounted up against Andy Coulson. David Cameron must have had his suspicions about Andy Coulson, and yet he refused to act”.

In a seperate report that is likely to make things even harder for Cameron further questions need to be answered, “When Coulson was hired as the Tory leader’s media adviser, in late May 2007, he gave assurances to Cameron and to George Osborne that there was nothing more that they needed to know about the scandal, which had ended with the jailing four months earlier of Clive Goodman as a “rogue reporter” who had hacked royal phones without the knowledge of anybody else at the News of the World. Detailed evidence that directly challenged that claim was already in police hands at that time. A clear hint was available on the public record in comments made by the judge who had sentenced Goodman. But, according to senior Tory officials, Cameron made no attempt to seek a police briefing or to check the court record, even when he became prime minister and took Coulson into Downing Street. Cameron has been accused of employing Coulson in spite of his past in order to build a bridge to Rupert Murdoch”.

That is not the only issue for Cameron however, “Downing Street has been asked to explain whether Andy Coulson is the only senior press adviser to recent prime ministers to have been spared high-level security vetting. Lord Justice Leveson, whose judicial inquiry is examining relations between the government and the media, in particular News Corporation, said he wanted to find out whether the issue represented “a smoking gun”. The former head of the civil service Lord O’Donnell also told the inquiry that the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, should have known if his special adviser was giving feedback to News Corporation on its controversial £8bn takeover bid for BSkyB. The judge requested a full breakdown of the security vetting status of recent top Downing Street media advisers following revelations that the former News of the World editor received only mid-level security checks before starting work for David Cameron in government. O’Donnell was responsible for security vetting when Coulson became the prime minister’s director of communications in May 2010. He oversaw the decision not to subject Coulson to rigorous “developed vetting” (DV) checks that involve testing whether there is anything in an individual’s background that might make him or her vulnerable to blackmail. The Cabinet Office saidon Monday it was preparing a full list for the inquiry. Downing Street sources conceded it was likely to show that most of the previous incumbents of the role were subject to DV, or its equivalent, under earlier systems. Coulson was allowed to operate with a mid-ranking “security check” level of vetting that allows only supervised access to the most secret documents. He told the Leveson inquiry last week that he nevertheless had unsupervised access to top-secret files”.

Lastly, the Guardian, in yet another scoop has reported that “Rupert Murdoch has been officially informed by Scotland Yard that detectives want to interview him as a suspect as part of their inquiry into allegations of crime at his British newspapers. It is understood that detectives first contacted Murdoch last year to arrange to question him but agreed to a request from his lawyers to wait until the phone-hacking trial was finished. The interview is expected to take place in the near future in the UK and will be conducted “under caution”, the legal warning given to suspects. His son James, who was the executive chairman of News International in the UK, may also be questioned. News of the police move comes after an Old Bailey jury found Murdoch’s former News of the World editor Andy Coulson guilty of conspiring to hack phones, but acquitted his former UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks on all charges. The verdict on Coulson also means that Murdoch’s UK company is now threatened with a possible corporate charge, while the media owner also faces the prospect of a dozen more criminal trials involving his journalists as well as hundreds more legal actions in the high court from the alleged victims of phone hacking by the News of the World. Also, the verdict revives troubling questions for the prime minister about his links with Murdoch and his hiring of Andy Coulson. Questions are likely to focus on why Cameron employed Coulson without making effective checks and whether Cameron gave misleading evidence on oath about this at the Leveson inquiry”.

 

 

 

Two new saints

03/05/2014
With the recent canonisation of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis has sent a clear signal to the rest of the Church. The issue of the sainthood for John Paul II has already been discussed here before.
A blog post from the Economist discusses the canonisations, “Popes John XXIII (1958-63) and John Paul II (1978-2005) were both charismatic figures who, in multiple ways, transformed the world’s largest spiritual institution. Yet, whether or not this reflects reality, their images are very different. Among liberal-minded Catholics, Pope John is a particular hero: the only pontiff of modern times, saving perhaps the present one, whom they unconditionally admire. His great achievement, in the view of most Catholics, was initiating the second Vatican council of 1962-65, a deliberation which reconciled the church with the modern world and ushered in a new spirit of consultation and consensus in the governance of the church”.
Perhaps unwittingly the blog post is feeding a number of mistaken beliefs. Firstly, that the buzzword of the Council, collegiality, means a dimunation of the papal office, which it certainly does not. Pope John, for all his warmth and humour, was just as autocratic as his successors in his decision making. The second mistaken belief that the post propogates is Francis the revolutionary, beloved by the Catholic Left. This, as has been mentioned before, is a myth that they have yet to realise.
The blogpost adds, “Pope John Paul II brought the church to the world in a different way, as a star of the electronic age who relentlessly travelled the globe, even when he was physically enfeebled. By using his moral authority to help dismantle communism in his native Poland, he gave a devastating answer to Stalin’s cynical question: “How many divisions has the Pope?” Both John Paul himself and most of his admirers would insist that he was fully in step with the pronouncements of Vatican II; but his critics saw him as rolling back liberal reforms by tightening church discipline and silencing some innovative theologians. Different ends of the spectrum, then? Some Vatican-watchers see the double sainthood as an artful sop to all shades of church opinion. Given that the campaign for an early canonisation of John Paul had gathered unstoppable momentum, yoking him with Pope John was a way to reassure the progressive camp. But in one very important way, the two popes being honoured have a similar legacy. Both are credited with bringing much closer an historic reconciliation between Christians and Jews, in their own lives and their public teaching”.
John Allen, now of the Boston Globe makes the interesing point, “This will be the first time two popes have been declared saints in the same ceremony, and although projections vary, well over a million people could turn out in Rome to watch history being made, with millions more following the event on TV or over the Internet”.
Allen goes on to make the interesting point, “putting these two popes together amounts to a call for unity between the church’s liberal and conservative wings. In the Catholic street, John XXIII is an icon of the left, remembered as the pope who launched the reforming Second Vatican Council and opened the Church to the modern world. John Paul II is a hero to the right, the pope who brought down Communism, who fought what he called a “culture of death” behind liberalizing currents on abortion and other life issues, and who insisted on strong Catholic identity vis-à-vis secular pressures to water down the faith. Inevitably, those stereotypes don’t do justice to complex figures. John XXIII was actually a man of deeply traditional Italian Catholic piety, and John Paul II was hardly a neo-con. Recall, for instance, his opposition to both the death penalty and the US-led war in Iraq in 2003. Nonetheless, the politically savvy Francis is aware of how these popes are seen, so the dual halos represent an invitation to left and right to come together. Had either pontiff been canonized individually, it might have come off as a victory lap for one side or the other. Second, the combination also says something about the multiple paths to holiness. Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla, the given names of John XXIII and John Paul II, were remarkably different personalities. Roncalli was the roly-poly, avuncular son of Italian peasants, while the swashbuckling Wojtyla was sort of a Polish John Wayne. Roncalli was a student of church history and a Vatican diplomat, while Wojtyla was a philosopher and pastor. As noted, they also have different followings. Combining them is thus a reminder that good Catholics, up to and including popes, come in all shapes and sizes. As Jesuit Fr. James Martin puts it, the canonizations illustrate that “sanctity does not mean we have to be cookie-cutter versions of one or another saint.” Third, the canonizations offer a reminder that sainthood, when it’s working properly, is the most democratic procedure in the Catholic church”.

The most interesting coverage comes from a piece in The Guardian. It begins, “It was during the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005 that the campaign for his canonisation began. “Santo subito!” said Italian posters held up in the crowd. “Make him a saint straightaway!” Investigations into his cause have continued ever since and now, six years on, the veteran Vatican-watcher Andrea Tornelli has suggested that an alleged miracle linked to the intervention of the Polish pope has been confirmed as true by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Tornielli, writing in the Milan paper Il Giornale, says that the congregation’s medical panel has accepted that a French nun’s recovery from Parkinson’s disease was caused by John Paul’s intercession. The miracle now has to be approved by a commission of bishops and cardinals before John Paul could be first beatified and then canonised. There’s always been unseemly haste about the canonisation of John Paul II. The church usually has a five-year “cooling-off” period following someone’s death before they can be considered for sainthood – a sensible approach, given the emotions that surround someone’s passing – but Pope Benedict waived this in the case of his predecessor”.

 

She goes on to make the point that “Might he now rue the day? While John Paul’s place in history is assured, given his role in the fall of communism, his remarkable efforts to improve the relationship between the Catholic church and Jews, his globetrotting showmanship and his ability to say sorry for past papal mistakes, there is one particular giant blot on his papacy which casts doubt for many, including Catholics, on his holiness: his relationship with Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, who founded the Legion of Christ movement for priests and its lay organisation Regnum Christi. Maciel’s work, which included founding many schools, universities and seminaries, brought him into constant contact with young people. His conservative approach to church teaching, his flair for both recruiting young men to the priesthood and the wealthy to become donors to the church made him particularly appealing to John Paul and others around him at the heart of the Vatican. For years there were allegations about his sexual abuse of young people. But Maciel retained a powerful position at the heart of the Catholic church, accompanying John Paul to visits to visits to Mexico on three occasions and being asked to join influential committees”.

She ends, “By 2004, Jason Berry and the late Gerald Renner had exposed his double life in their book and documentary Vows of Silence. The following year, Maciel stood down from running the Legionaries, and just days before the death of John Paul, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was speaking of the “filth in the church”, widely interpreted as meaning child abusers in general and quite possibly Maciel in particular. It took Ratzinger just a year following his election as Pope Benedict XVI to discipline Maciel and invite him to a life of penitence and prayer”.

 

Indeed, this is part of the reason why the Church has not advanced the cause of Pius IX, despite some laughable objections.

 

She concludes rightly, “This is the darkest chapter in the paedophilia scandal. But it’s more than that: it’s also a story of how money can gain you access and power in the church, and how fear of scandal continues to be one of the strongest sentiments in Rome, leading to cover-up. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna has spoken of the then Cardinal Ratzinger struggling against the odds to tackle child abuse. Nothing speaks more loudly than how he was blocked by other powerful Vatican figures than the way he moved against Maciel as soon as he was in charge. The Maciel saga is a distasteful backdrop to a canonisation that could well become another Vatican PR own goal”.

“Chinese corruption will remain pervasive and systematic”

27/03/2014

There has been much talk about the recent Chinese “crackdown” on corruption. However, an excellent piece allows the reader to understand what is truly happening and that China under President Xi will not alter course and implement any real anti-corruption measures.

It begins, “Anyone who thinks that the evident fall of Zhou Yongkang, the powerful former security chief and erstwhile member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the small group that effectively runs China, signals that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has taken steps towards fighting corruption in a systematic way — or that President Xi Jinping wants and is able to build a transparent government — fundamentally misunderstands Chinese politics”.

The writer, a human rights lawyer, goes on to argue that “Xi has said that his anti-corruption campaign, announced January 2013, would go after ‘flies and tigers,’ meaning that it would target corruption at all levels. Prime Minister Li Keqiang also declared on March 13 that there would be ‘zero tolerance for corrupt officials.’ They seem to be saying that before they took office, the party did not have a zero-tolerance policy — only small time ‘flies’ were targeted. The ‘big tiger,’ of course, is Zhou. Beginning in late 2012 after he left office, many high-level officials connected to Zhou have been charged with corruption, such as the deputy party secretary of Sichuan province and the former head of China’s largest petroleum company. Now many know about the investigation and house arrest of Zhou, even if the Chinese government has not officially acknowledged it”.

Crucially he goes on to add that “In Chinese officialdom, there is a saying: ‘If you make it to bureau head [a mid-level ranking], you will be spared the death penalty. If you make it to the PSC, you will be spared any penalty.’ There is almost nothing a PSC member can’t do. PSC members have the police, prosecutors, and courts in their pockets. They write the criminal laws, and even history. From Mao Zedong, to Deng Xiaoping, and all the way to Xi, every generation of Chinese leaders has launched high-profile anti-corruption campaigns: Mao began his by having the officials Liu Qingshan and Zhang Zishan executed for corruption in 1952; Deng began a ‘party purification‘ campaign in 1986. Under President Jiang Zemin, then-Premier Zhu Rongji said he had prepared 100 coffins, ’99 for corrupt officials, and one for myself.’ To the party, anti-corruption campaigns are very useful because they are popular with the masses and can help take out political rivals”.

He writes “But because they allow winners in a political struggle to consolidate their gains, the end result of these anti-corruption campaigns is yet more corruption among those lucky enough to remain in the system. A provincial-level official would probably be ashamed if he didn’t have millions of dollars’ worth of illegal income and a couple of starlets as mistresses. A race to the bottom has long meant that officials with real power have about as much luck keeping clean as porn stars do keeping their chastity”.

He ends the piece “corruption has become institutionalized, but anti-corruption is far from systematic. The anti-corruption “successes” are therefore the result of political infighting, not the rule of law. Without competition between political parties, real elections, checks and balances on power, judiciary independence, a free press, or a strong civil society, Chinese corruption will remain pervasive and systematic. Few corrupt officials are caught, a signaling function which invites yet more corruption. Foreign organizations like Bloombergand the non-profit International Consortium of Investigative Journalists have exposed the assets of certain high-level officials and their families, but I believe those are but the tip of the iceberg”.

 

Influenced by big business

06/02/2014

A news report demonstrates the power of the food and drinks industry in modern society.

It opens “Ministers and senior government officials held dozens of meetings with the drinks industry before reversing plans to introduce minimum alcohol pricing despite compelling medical evidence it would save thousands of lives, it has emerged. In a letter in Wednesday’s Telegraph, 22 health experts accuse the Government of ‘deplorable practices’ in allowing policy to be swayed by the interests of big business at the expense of the nation’s well-being. David Cameron made a personal pledge in March 2012 that minimum alcohol pricing would be introduced”.

This shows the toxic results that vested interests can have on society. In this instance the British Government has buckled under the pressure and ignored not only the obvious health evidence but at the same time the increased revenue that may come from such a measure.

The report adds, “in July last year the policy was abandoned despite evidence that a 40p minimum charge would save 900 lives a year and prevent 50,000 crimes. Now an investigation by the British Medial Journal has found that since the coalition came to power it has met with the drinks industry on 130 occasions, including two times after a public consultation on minimum pricing had concluded. In contrast health experts say they were barred from putting their case across and have accused the government of suppressing scientific papers which bolstered their cause”.

The article goes on to note that “The prime minister made a commitment to the policy in March 2012 and launched a consultation about what the minimum price should be. But Department of Health emails show that during and after the consultation the alcohol industry was still lobbying against the policy itself in a series of meetings with ministers from which health experts were excluded. ‘It is a dangerous situation to be in when the only people present at a meeting are those who are set to benefit from it not happening,’ said Prof Mark Bellis, of the UK Faculty of Public Health. On February 6, 2013, the day the consultation ended, public health minister Anna Soubry met with seven representatives of the industry to discuss their ‘deep concern’ about a regulation which they claimed would hit Treasury revenues hard”.

This blatant blackmail should not have been tolerated, let alone allowed to sway government policy. Much the same policy is used by bankers in the UK, and elsewhere, to threaten to leave if policies they disagree with are discussed, let alone implemented. The previous Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley and his successor the Murdoch stooge Jeremry Hunt seem unmoved by the crisis of not just below cost selling but also the effect of food advertising on people today. It should come as no suprise that Lansley has links with major food corporations.

The piece ends, “Professor Gilmore added: “The u-turn came just when the evidence for minimum pricing was getting stronger so there had to be some political machinations involved. ‘The drinks industry continues to have high-level access to Government ministers and officials while no forum currently exists for the public health community to put forward its case in an environment free from vested interests. ‘With deaths from liver disease rapidly rising and teenagers now presenting with advanced liver failure, the Government has a duty to realise its commitment to introduce minimum pricing.’ The investigation has also uncovered close links between the alcohol industry and MPs who belong to parliamentary groups which support beer, whisky, wine and cider manufacturers. The all-party beer group, to which 300 MPs belong, last year received in excess of £40,000 in corporate membership fees from eight drinks companies, including Heineken, Diageo and AB InBev”.

If the government ever stands up to such vested interests then the UK will be better off.

Francis vs Rush

08/12/2013

Christian Caryl who has written somewhat correctly about Pope Francis recently, has a new article about what blowhard Rush Limbaugh has said about Francis who has in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation warned about how many people view capitalism.

Caryl writes that “In his text he assails the problem of inequality, asks that we pay greater attention to the needs of the poor, and attacks the idea that the urge to accumulate wealth is an end unto itself. Sure, the bible has a lot of harsh things to say about the wanton rich”.

Caryl add “Nowhere in the document does he mention specific policies to counter these problems. He doesn’t call for increased taxation of the rich. (The word “tax” occurs only once in the document, in a passage that criticises tax evasion and corruption.) He doesn’t sing the praises of collectivism. He doesn’t attack the principle of private property, nor does he advocate public ownership of the means of production. It’s worth noting that this pope has a long track record of opposing liberation theologists in his homeland of Argentina. Still, I guess it’s theoretically possible that the pope really is a closet Maoist”.

Caryl is correct, Francis does not advocate for collectivism or attacking property. However what Caryl misses is that the reason he does not “mention specific policies” is that because this is primarly a religious document and not an economic article. The Church is not a political organisation but it does seek the common good and reserves the right to have its voice heard on matters where there is a spiritual dimension – the worship of money being the obvious example.

He makes the correct point when he writes “The conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, America’s premier political entertainer, was keen to pile on (though not quite so ingenious in his arguments). He was especially upset by this part of the pope’s critique: “The culture of prosperity deadens us. We are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime, all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle. They fail to move us.” This sounds pretty keenly observed to me. But Limbaugh just couldn’t bear it: “That’s going way beyond matters that are ethical,” he spluttered. “This is almost a statement about who should control financial markets. He says that the global economy needs government control.” Well, no. Actually, Francis doesn’t say anything of the kind. Instead he’s exhorting us (a pronoun that expressly includes politicians and world leaders) to look closely at our own behavior and its consequences. That’s precisely why his text is an “exhortation,” a rumination on issues of justice and charity, not a white paper from some Washington think tank”.

Finally Caryl rightly laughs at Limbaugh, “For Limbaugh, though, it’s a clear case: Pope Francis is a ‘Marxist.’ Just for good measure, he draws a stark contrast between Francis and Pope John Paul II, who stared down the Soviet Union and made a signal contribution to the collapse of communism. John Paul II, in this reading, was the ultimate Cold Warrior, a man at the opposite end of the spectrum from this sentimental, pinko Francis. Except that he wasn’t. Here’s a sample from John Paul II’s own writings in 1991. ‘The Marxist solution has failed,’ he noted. And yet, he continued: ‘Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution. Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems'”

He concludes, “Francis, in short, isn’t saying that capitalism is inherently bad. What he’s saying is that we shouldn’t fetishize it. We shouldn’t treat it as if it’s beyond reproach, something that we can’t even dare to change”.

“We have created new idols”

06/12/2013
“One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf.Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings”

“A crude and naive trust”

01/12/2013

Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting”.

“A harsh critique”

27/11/2013

Pope Francis launched a harsh critique against “trickle-down” economics and an unrestricted free market Tuesday, as he lamented the growing issue of income inequality. In a new writing, the leader of the Catholic Church identified current economic conditions as a major challenge facing the globe. In particular, he argued that the “idolatry of money” in society has created a class of people who are basically disposable”.

Repent over homophobia

30/08/2013

Justin Welby told an audience of traditional born-again Christians that they must ‘repent’ over the way gay and lesbian people have been treated in the past and said most young people viewed Christians as no better than racists on the issue. Archbishop Welby, who as a young priest once opposed allowing gay couples to adopt children, said the church now had to face up to what amounted to one of the most rapid changes in public attitudes ever. While insisting that he did not regret voting against same-sex marriage in the House of Lords, he admitted that his own mind was not yet ‘clear’ on the wider issues which he was continuing to think about. And he admitted that, despite its strong official opposition to allowing same-sex couples to marry, the Church is still ‘deeply and profoundly divided’ over gay marriage”.

“Worst wave”

14/08/2013

A series of bomb attacks killed at least 22 people across Iraq on Monday, part of the country’s worst wave of violence in around five years.  At least 16 people died and 41 others were injured when a suicide bomber targeted a crowded cafe in Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad. Two roadside bombs – one planted near a playground and another near a school – also killed six people and wounded dozens, some of them children, in the town of Muqdadiya, 50 miles northeast of the capital.  Those blasts underlined a shift in tactics by suspected Islamist militants, who are increasingly targeting not only military checkpoints and marketplaces, but also cafes and recreational areas used by families and children”.

“Only did so for monetary reasons”

22/04/2013

For years, Assange has been dogged by allegations that he never cared if his WikiLeaks disclosures endangered the lives of innocent civilians. ‘If they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them,’ Assange allegedly said, according to the Guardian‘s investigative journalist David Leigh. ‘They deserve it.’ But Assange has always denied saying this, and has insisted that thousands of WikiLeaks files were carefully redacted out of concern for innocent people exposed by the cables. ‘We don’t want innocent people who have a decent chance of being hurt to be hurt,’ he told PBS. But now, in his new book, Schmidt says Assange never wanted to redact the cables — and only did so for monetary reasons”.

Spineless Cameron

17/03/2013

Following on from the phone hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry, the attempt by the British Government to regulate the press, seems to have come to naught.

Reports indicate the the Conservative Party, bent on ignoring the facts as well as the common good, is attempting to legislate without the support from other parties. The article mentions “The Prime Minister called on Labour and Lib Dem MPs to back his plans for a Royal Charter for the press, which would avoid politicians becoming involved in regulating newspapers. He acknowledged that as the Conservatives do not have a majority in Parliament he may be powerless to prevent Britain taking the historic step of legally curtailing the free press. Until Thursday, Mr Cameron had been taking part in cross-party talks with Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg to draw up a new system of press regulation in the wake of Lord [Justice] Leveson’s inquiry. Lord Justice Leveson recommended a new system of press regulation, backed by legislation. However, the Prime Minister rejected this recommendation and is instead proposing that a Royal Charter — similar to those used to formally recognise the BBC and universities — underpins the new regulator”.

The writer betrays much when he says “the historical step of legally curtailing the free press”. Not only does this lessen the appalling acts that many in the lower press committed in the name of profits only attempting to justify their immoral actions as being in the public interest but it also blows the reasonable proposals by Lord Justice Leveson out of all proportion hinting at the end of free speech as it is known. Such talk is hyperbole and should be dismissed.

The article adds that the talks between the three parties in an attempt to get cross party agreement collapsed as a result over disagreement “over issues on which the Lib Dems and Labour oppose the Conservatives”.

The piece mentions, “These include the degree of control that newspapers have over the new regulator; the ability of people to make ‘third party’ complaints about articles which do not directly affect them, and the penalties for newspapers which do not abide by the new rules. In recent weeks, peers have sought to amend a range of unconnected pieces of legislation to introduce the Leveson proposals. In a hastily arranged press conference, the Prime Minister said that too many other pieces of law were being unnecessarily delayed by the ongoing row over press regulation and that he would call a Parliamentary vote on a Royal Charter next week. Labour is now expected to bring forward its own legally binding proposals — and which scheme the Lib Dems choose to back will be crucial”.

Bringer of tension?

03/03/2013

Michael Klare has written a piece in Foreign Affairs. He argues that US involvement in Asia will mean more tension, not less.

He opens the piece “When U.S. officials are asked to comment on disputes over contested islands in the western Pacific, they invariably affirm that the Obama administration has no position on issues of sovereignty but opposes any use of force to resolve the matter. ‘Whether with regard to disputes in the South China Sea or in the East China Sea,’ Deputy Secretary of State William Burns declared last October in Tokyo, the United States ‘does not take a position on the question of ultimate sovereignty.’ True to form, he continued, ‘What we do take a position on is the importance of dealing with those questions through dialogue and diplomacy and avoiding intimidation and coercion.’ In this and other such statements, the United States projects an aura of neutrality — even suggesting, on occasion, that the country could serve as a good-faith mediator between disputants. But Washington’s stance is less neutral than it appears and more geared toward violent conflict than talking it out”.

Yet, Klare’s point is only seems to be valid from the Chinese side, but otherwise America is just doing what it has always done, being engaged in the region and at the same time, taking an expansive view of its national interests. He goes on to briefly explain the reason behind the dispute between Japan and China, “In the East China Sea, China and Japan are squabbling over a cluster of small, uninhabited islands called the Diaoyu by the Chinese and the Senkaku by the Japanese”.

Klare then goes on to write “Little more than rock formations, the islands possess hardly any value in and of themselves. But they are believed to sit astride vast undersea reserves of oil and natural gas — lucrative caches for whichever country can get to them. Beyond the economic boon it would be, the Chinese view acquisition of the islands (along with the recovery of Taiwan) as the final dismantling of the imperial yoke of Western powers and Japan. The other claimants, meanwhile, see retaining control of the islands as a necessary act of defiance in the face of China’s growing power and assertiveness”. Yet while this point is broadly true he underestimates the problems that Chinese “assertiveness” has caused, heightening tensions and increasing enmity between China and the most of the rest of Asia. So to say that China is assertive is putting it mildly.

He then mentions that “The United States’ own interests in the islands are varied. To begin with, the U.S. Navy has long dominated this maritime region, which is a vital thoroughfare for U.S. warships heading from the Pacific to the Middle East. The United States is also obligated by treaty to defend Japan and its maritime lifelines. Hence, ‘freedom of navigation’ in the East and South China Seas is an avowed U.S. national security priority. The growing involvement of U.S. energy companies in the extraction of oil and natural gas from the South China Sea has added another layer to the United States’ strategy. According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Energy, major firms such as Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil have partnered with the state-owned oil companies of Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines to develop promising reserves in maritime territories claimed by these countries as well as China. In October 2011, for example, Exxon announced a major gas find in waters claimed by Vietnam that are also said to be part of China’s own maritime territory”.

Again Klare’s point is valid and undoubtedly true but only half the picture. He does not mention that fact the Taiwan issue and America’s successful “dual deterrence” strategy on which the Taiwanese depends for their security. He also omits, or forgets to mention the fact that many countries in Asia are US allies and need an engagement America in the region to balance against China when it wants to deal with them individually so the Chinese can use their leverage over them. Instead Asia, or at least most of it, is rushing into the arms of the American led order (and security guarantees). So certainly the United States certainly has interests, only a fool would say otherwise, but it also have values that are inextricably linked to those interests, such as the support for democracy and free speech. Neither of which are available in China.

He goes on to write “In 2011, with U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama began to address the perceived decline in America’s regional power position. Claiming that the Asia-Pacific region had become the new center of global economic dynamism, Obama set out to restore military dominance there. This meant, first and foremost, the reinforcement of U.S. forces in the Pacific, especially the Navy, which is slated to deploy 60 percent of its combat strength in the region (as compared to 50 percent at present); but, as Obama explained, it also entailed the reinvigoration of military ties with U.S. allies in the region, especially Japan and the Philippines. Although Obama has insisted that this so-called pivot to Asia was not intended to punish or contain China, it is hard to view it as anything else”. This is one half of US strategy, realism and idealism. Indeed, in the administration have said that China should pose no threat to America if they act responsibly. Instead however, the Chinese have bullied their neighbours and attacked America through cyber terrorism.

He adds “while continuing to profess neutrality, senior officials have expressed dismay over the aggressive actions taken by certain unnamed claimants — easily interpreted as meaning China”.

Yet while his point that America at the same time professes neutrality and expands into Asia is valid to be surprised at this is even more odd. It is the way the international world works because it is the way man works. In an ideal world there would be no hypocrisy.  It is obviously not an ideal world. To then say that America makes things worse because of these seems bizarre, to say the least.

The problems of capitalism

24/02/2013

The major article in the most recent Foreign Affairs entitled “Capitalism and Inequality” argues that “Recent political debate in the United States and other advanced capitalist democracies has been dominated by two issues: the rise of economic inequality and the scale of government intervention to address it. As the 2012 U.S. presidential election and the battles over the ‘fiscal cliff’ have demonstrated, the central focus of the left today is on increasing government taxing and spending, primarily to reverse the growing stratification of society, whereas the central focus of the right is on decreasing taxing and spending, primarily to ensure economic dynamism. Each side minimizes the concerns of the other, and each seems to believe that its desired policies are sufficient to ensure prosperity and social stability. Both are wrong”.

It goes to say “Inequality is indeed increasing almost everywhere in the postindustrial capitalist world. But despite what many on the left think, this is not the result of politics, nor is politics likely to reverse it, for the problem is more deeply rooted and intractable than generally recognized. Inequality is an inevitable product of capitalist activity, and expanding equality of opportunity only increases it”. While he is correct in the sense that inequality is rising, with both the bottom and middle suffering the most with the very wealthiest losing least, or in many cases, actually gaining. It would be wrong to say that the only reason for this was capitalism but the kind of capitalism that has been worshipped over the last 20 years, or maybe more, has greatly worsened the level of inequality in many societies. This change in capitalism has itself come about with as a result of the changing nature of the economy and the work that more people are doing. It is far more skilled, even at low levels than it was previously which in turn has meant greater emphasis on education. Yet while many more than ever before have gained university degrees the wealthiest have gone further still thereby enhancing their advantage. There is nothing wrong with parents doing this for their children but there must then be a counter balance to this in order to mitigate and lessen this effect.

He goes on to write “Despite what many on the right think, however, this is a problem for everybody, not just those who are doing poorly or those who are ideologically committed to egalitarianism — because if left unaddressed, rising inequality and economic insecurity can erode social order and generate a populist backlash against the capitalist system at large”. He rightly praises capitalism for raising living standards and reducing poverty but goes on to warn “Capitalism’s intrinsic dynamism, however, produces insecurity along with benefits, and so its advance has always met resistance. Much of the political and institutional history of capitalist societies, in fact, has been the record of attempts to ease or cushion that insecurity, and it was only the creation of the modern welfare state in the middle of the twentieth century that finally enabled capitalism and democracy to coexist in relative harmony”.

He goes on to state rather controversially “If capitalism has opened up ever more opportunities for the development of human potential, however, not everyone has been able to take full advantage of those opportunities or progress far once they have done so. Formal or informal barriers to equality of opportunity, for example, have historically blocked various sectors of the population — such as women, minorities, and the poor — from benefiting fully from all capitalism offers. But over time, in the advanced capitalist world, those barriers have gradually been lowered or removed, so that now opportunity is more equally available than ever before. The inequality that exists today, therefore, derives less from the unequal availability of opportunity than it does from the unequal ability to exploit opportunity”.

He adds “All this progress, however, has been shadowed by capitalism’s perennial features of inequality and insecurity. In 1973, the sociologist Daniel Bell noted that in the advanced capitalist world, knowledge, science, and technology were driving a transformation to what he termed “postindustrial society.” Just as manufacturing had previously displaced agriculture as the major source of employment, he argued, so the service sector was now displacing manufacturing”.

He rightly goes on to mention the role of the family in society and its subesquent economic effects, “In the United States, among the most striking developments of recent decades has been the stratification of marriage patterns among the various classes and ethnic groups of society. When divorce laws were loosened in the 1960s, there was a rise in divorce rates among all classes. But by the 1980s, a new pattern had emerged: divorce declined among the more educated portions of the populace, while rates among the less-educated portions continued to rise. In addition, the more educated and more well-to-do were more likely to wed, while the less educated were less likely to do so. Given the family’s role as an incubator of human capital, such trends have had important spillover effects on inequality. Abundant research shows that children raised by two parents in an ongoing union are more likely to develop the self-discipline and self-confidence that make for success in life”.

He goes on to argue that education is not necessarily the answer “even though a higher percentage of Americans are attending college, they are not necessarily learning more. An increasing number are unqualified for college-level work, many leave without completing their degrees, and others receive degrees reflecting standards much lower than what a college degree has usually been understood to mean”, he adds “formal schooling itself plays a relatively minor role in creating or perpetuating achievement gaps”.

The answer to this he says is not greater redistribtuion which he argues “has two drawbacks, however. The first is that over time, the very forces that lead to greater inequality reassert themselves, requiring still more, or more aggressive, redistribution. The second is that at some point, redistribution produces substantial resentment and impedes the drivers of economic growth. Some degree of postmarket redistribution through taxation is both possible and necessary, but just how much is ideal will inevitably be contested”.

Whatever about his idea that greater redistribution will mean more redistrubition the second point that it “impedes the drivers of economic growth” is laughable.

The second solution which he also rejects is “using government policy to close the gaps between individuals and groups by offering preferential treatment to underperformers, may be worse than the disease. Whatever their purported benefits, mandated rewards to certain categories of citizens inevitably create a sense of injustice among the rest of the population. More grave is their cost in terms of economic efficiency”. Again this logic is questionable, to say the least.

The recommended cure for capitalism, he says, is more capitalism, “encouraging continued economic innovation that will benefit everybody, is more promising. The combination of the Internet and computational revolutions may prove comparable to the coming of electricity, which facilitated an almost unimaginable range of other activities that transformed society at large in unpredictable ways. Among other gains, the Internet has radically increased the velocity of knowledge, a key factor in capitalist economic growth since at least the eighteenth century. Add to that the prospects of other fields still in their infancy, such as biotechnology, bioinformatics, and nanotechnology, and the prospects for future economic growth and the ongoing improvement of human life look reasonably bright. Nevertheless, even continued innovation and revived economic growth will not eliminate or even significantly reduce socioeconomic inequality and insecurity, because individual, family, and group differences will still affect the development of human capital and professional accomplishment”.

No shame

22/02/2013

As the last week of of the reign of Pope Benedict XVI ticks away and the electors are moving their minds as to who will be the next pope some cardinals should not attend the conclave at all.

An article mentions that several cardinals are totally discredited, it notes “Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York, has become the latest cardinal to be questioned over his handling of sex abuse by priests and victims”. The piece goes on to add “several are embroiled in controversies connected to the Church’s systemic failure to tackle sex abuse against children by paedophile priests. The question marks over the cardinals’ management of sex abuse cases are an embarrassment for the Holy See, just as Benedict prepares to resign the papacy next Thursday. Timothy Dolan, the charismatic archbishop of New York, who is considered to have a chance of being elected Benedict XVI’s successor, was formally questioned about abusive priests in his former archdiocese of Milwaukee, just days before his departure for Rome to take part in the conclave”.

The article goes on to note “Cardinal Dolan is the second American cardinal this week to be scrutinised over his role in the sex abuse scandals, which erupted in the United States in 2002. Cardinal Roger Mahony, the retired archbishop of Los Angeles, is due to be questioned on Saturday in a lawsuit over a visiting Mexican priest who police believe molested 26 children in the 1980s. Catholic groups in the US and Italy have called for Cardinal Mahony to be barred from the conclave, but he insists he will attend despite allegations that he shielded predatory priests”.

The piece goes on to mention Cardinal Brady, the archbishop of Armagh and his role in protecting priests who he knew were abusing children. The article adds later that Cardinal Danneels “had computer files seized at his home in 2010 over suspicions that he helped cover up hundreds of abuse cases. Justin Rigali, another American cardinal, retired as archbishop of Philadelphia in disgrace after a grand jury accused him of failing to do enough to tackle abusive priests”.

Indeed it was Cardinal Rigali who having been through a grand jury investigation in 2005 promised to clean up his diocese but a second grand jury report was equally damning of Rigali and his total failure to act.

It is clear that these men should absent themselves from the conclave so as not to cast a stain on a new papacy by guilt of association.

The wrong Martin

19/01/2013

Sean Cardinal Brady, the untrustworthy and sinful archbishop of Armagh and primate of All Ireland has finally had his request for a coadjutor archbishop met. Cardinal Brady, who originally requested assistance in 2010 at the height of the crisis in his “leadership”, finally had his request granted.

Yesterday Pope Benedict announced that Msgr Eamon Martin, 51, the diocesan administrator of the Diocese of Derry would become Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh. Thus, as soon as Cardinal Brady turns 75, in August 2014, his resignation will be accepted and Archbishop Martin will take over.

Rocco notes that Msgr Martin is “Set to be the native ‘frontman’ for Rome’s intended reconstitution” of the Church in Ireland. However, as has been mentioned here before if Rome really wanted to appoint someone with real credibility the only bishop with real trust is Diarmuid Martin, archbishop of Dublin and primate of Ireland. Archbishop Martin of Dublin, 67, has consistently dragged his fellow Irish bishops into dealing properly with the crisis, that they, themselves created through their desire to protect the institution at all costs even though it meant destroying the lives of hundreds of children who were meant to be in their care.

It would be foolish however to think of Rome as a monoculture. Though it is impossible to know for sure, Archbishop Martin’s name must surely have been mentioned for the role in the meetings of the Congregation for Bishops. Yet, it is well known that some of the older prelates in the Roman Curia dislike Archbishop Martin’s forthrightness and actions during his time in Dublin thus far.

Earlier reports of someone from outside of Ireland getting the role quickly faded. Rocco goes on to mention “As a more modern sign of his clout, the Primate – almost invariably the holder of Ireland’s seat in the College of Cardinals for the last century and a half – serves ex officio as president of the Isle’s joint episcopal conference, whose operations Eamon Martin oversaw as general secretary from 2008 until returning to his home-diocese in 2010 as vicar-general”. Thus, the newly appointed Coadjutor Archbishop-elect Martin will become a cardinal, if present traditions hold, sometime around 2019 by which time he will be 58 or 59. Of course, Pope Benedict could expedite the process and give him the red earlier, though this would mean Ireland having two electors in a potential conclave, which is unlikely.

One of redeeming features is the young archbishop’s interest in sacred music which bodes will for the direction of the liturgy in the diocese. Rocco mentions that “two of the 26 dioceses stand vacant, with another three bishops serving well past the retirement age of 75″. Ireland is still waiting for the report from the Congregation for Bishops on which dioceses to suppress and merge for the small island of 4.5 million Catholics with 26 dioceses, as many as Germany. In the last few months Benedict named William Crean as bishop of Cloyne and more recently still, Brendan Leahy as bishop of Limerick.

It seems utterly bizarre to name bishops to dioceses that could be suppressed in a few months, or years. Admittedly, the bishops of Elphin, Kerry and Ardagh should all be retired and their dioceses dissolved altogether.

Rocco concludes the report, “Brady’s standing has come under heavy fire and loud calls for his departure amid revelations of his role in the Irish church’s long, brutal history of sexual abuse by clergy and religious, and the subsequent neglect of allegations by church officials”.

He ends noting Archbishop Martin of Dublin’s comments in July 2011 calling elements of the Vatican a “cabal” when it comes to child protection measures.

The princelings money

28/12/2012

Two recent articles have appeared in “the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg both published exposés on the intersections between business and politics in the Chinese government” at the heart of which are the sons and daughters of high Chinese “communist”officials.

A summary has distilled the long articles and notes the main points with the greed and corruption clear for almost all to see. The piece mentions, “Bloomberg ‘traced the fortunes of 103 people, the Immortals’ direct descendants and their spouses’ and found that ‘twenty-six of the heirs ran or held top positions in state-owned companies that dominate the economy.’ Three princelings alone ‘headed or still run state-owned companies with combined assets of about $1.6 trillion in 2011′”. This was seen most vividly again when the close relations of Premier Wen Jibao had a multi-billion dollar business empire. The summary also notes “This includes the family of current chairman of the Communist Party Xi Jinping, who’s extended family ‘amassed a fortune, including investments in companies with total assets of $376 million and Hong Kong real estate worth $55.6 million'”.

The article goes on to mention how business people are moving into politics, all within CCP control, of course as the piece summarises, “The Journal found that among the wealthiest people in China, those that ‘served in the legislature increased their wealth more quickly than the average member of the list. Seventy-five people who appeared on the rich list from 2007 to 2012 served in China’s legislature during that period. Their fortunes grew by 81 percent, on average, during that period, according to Hurun [a consultancy that tracks China’s wealthiest people]. The 324 list members with no national political positions over that period saw their wealth grow by 47 percent, on average, according to an analysis the firm ran for the Journal.'”

They note that this news is not news and has been known widely for some time, yet “there seems to be a consensus in the United States that China deserves to be understood. Ever since Bo’s downfall, Chinese with high level political access seem to be more open to speaking with foreign media. And Bloomberg, the multi-billion dollar behemoth with probably the world’s best financial databases, has been doing an excellent job of sending its reporters to follow the money”.

The piece ends controversially, “The increase in corruption/dissatisfaction with the princely class means that Chinese will continue to work/fight within the system to improve their lot/improve the system. This does not mean that they are planning to take the streets”. However it would be naive to think that just because the breaking point has not been reached that one does not exist. The spark could be anything but all it needs is a spark.

What Irish Catholics believe

01/12/2012

A survey has published recently about the religious beliefs of Catholics in Ireland.

The article opens “More than one in five Irish Catholics do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus or that God created the universe, according to the Ipsos MRBI 50th anniversary poll. It found also that 7 per cent of Irish Catholics do not even believe in God. When it comes to making serious moral decisions, more than three-quarters (78 per cent) of Irish Catholics follow their own conscience rather than church teaching (17 per cent). Almost half of Irish Catholics (45 per cent) do not believe in Hell while almost a fifth (18 per cent) do not believe that God created man”.

However, the writer, or even those who composed the questions obviously know nothing about Catholicism. In order to be a Christian the basic belief is Christ’s resurrection. Therefore to say “Irish Catholics do not believe” is an oxymoron. They are not even Christians if they do not adopt this article of faith. The same could be said for the figure of 7% who do not believe in God. Thirdly, it is a great shame that the lack of belief in Hell exists as this too is fundamental to Christian doctrine. Lastly, the Church has for at the very least 60 years taught that there is nothing wrong with belief in evolution and faith. Pius XII wrote on this topic in 1950.

The article goes on to add “On the other hand, 92 per cent of Irish Catholics believe in God, 82 per cent believe in heaven, 80 per cent believe God created man and 84 per cent believe Jesus was the son of God. Seventy-eight per cent believe in the resurrection of Jesus while 76 per cent believe God created the universe. When it comes to Mass attendance, the poll found 34 per cent of Irish Catholics did so on a weekly basis, with 16 per cent ‘rarely/never’ attending. Overall, the poll found 90 per cent of respondents described themselves as Catholic”. What is most interesting is that in a country as secular and “modern” as Ireland, Mass attendance is so high. While certainly not at American or Asian levels of attendance, Irish Catholics are still among the highest Mass goers in Europe. However, demographically these numbers are not sustainable.

The piece adds “Of those polled, 84 per cent believe priests should be allowed marry, with 7 per cent opposed, while 80 per cent believe there should be women priests, with 9 per cent opposed”, concluding “Only 17 per cent of 18-34-year-olds attend Mass weekly, compared to 31 per cent for 34-54-year-olds, 57 per cent for over-55s. Still, 87 per cent of 18-34-year-olds believe in God, compared to 93 per cent of 34-54-year-olds and 97 per cent of over-55s”.